Potential contribution of African leafy vegetables to the nutritional status of children
Background: Children in South Africa are still affected by micronutrient deficiencies and children living in farm communities are especially vulnerable. African Leafy Vegetables (ALVs) are well endowed with micronutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A and might contribute to the nutritional status of children. However, these vegetables have been perceived as “poor people’s food” and over the years knowledge of and use of ALVs has decreased. Aim: This study assessed the potential contribution of ALVs to the nutritional status of children in a semi-rural farm community. Method: In this cross-sectional study, anthropometric indices, serum iron, zinc and retinol concentrations were determined in school children aged 5−13 years (n=155). Dietary intake of iron, zinc and vitamin A was evaluated by three 24-hour diet recalls of children (n=154). The iron, zinc and β-carotene content of selected ALVs was determined. Knowledge of and use of ALVs by primary caregivers was established using focus group discussions (FGDs). Descriptive statistics, independent t-tests, the Pearson Chi-Square Test and Mann-Whitney U Test were used. Anthropometric data were analysed using the World Health Organization Reference 2007 data. Dietary data were analysed using FoodFinder (version 3). Qualitative data from FGDs were translated, transcribed and color-coded to generate emerging themes. Results: Stunting (11%) was the most prevalent anthropometric indicator of malnutrition. This was supported by the low socio-economic status of households. Deficiency prevalence in iron (serum ferritin <15 μg/L; 15.5%) and vitamin A (serum retinol <20 μg/dL; 3.2%) was low. Zinc deficiency was the most prevalent (serum zinc <65 μg/dL; 74.8%) deficiency. Median dietary intake of iron, zinc and vitamin A was generally above the Estimated Average Requirement. ALVs were potentially good sources of iron, zinc and β-carotene and could contribute substantially to the Recommended Dietary Allowance for these nutrients in children, without taking into account inhibiting factors that might affect the bioavailability. Iron content of the ALVs studied ranged from 1.4−3.2 mg/100 g edible portion. Amaranthus cruentus was the best source of iron. Zinc content of the ALVs ranged from 0.7−1.4 mg/100g edible portions, with Cleome gynandra having the highest zinc composition. The β-carotene content of the ALVs ranged from 182−314 μg RAE/100 g edible portion, with both Amaranthus cruentus and Cleome gynandra being the best sources. Knowledge of ALVs and their use was indigenous and was transferred between generations. Caregivers had positive attitudes towards the use of ALVs. Conclusion: Although the prevalence of deficiencies was not severe (with exception of zinc deficiency), micronutrient deficiencies exist in the rural farm community studied. ALVs are potentially good sources of iron, zinc and β-carotene and might contribute to the nutritional status of school children. Knowledge of ALVs and the positive attitude and perceptions regarding their use by primary caregivers implied a potentially positive future response to interventions promoting consumption of ALVs in order to contribute to the alleviation of micronutrient deficiencies.
- Health Sciences