INTRO: Researchers are testing a new way to prevent
the world's most common nutritional problem. Iron deficiency affects an
estimated three-and-a-half billion people worldwide. It is especially common
among people who don't eat meat or can't afford it, and who therefore subsist
on grains. Wheat and maize are often fortified with iron. But rice has proved
hard to fortify -- until recently. VOA's Steve Baragona has more.
Iron deficiency in adults causes fatigue and lost productivity. It can
increase the risk of infection and death in young children, and can also limit
their motor skills and ability to learn later in life.
Adding iron to a staple food is one way to prevent deficiency and its more
serious consequence, anemia. But nutritionists have found it difficult to
fortify rice without adversely affecting its appearance or flavor.
Diego Moretti at Wageningen (VAH-hen-ing-gen) University in the Netherlands and
his colleagues tried using fake rice made out of iron-fortified rice-flour
dough and shaped by machine into grains that look like the local variety.
AUDIO: CUT 1 MORETTI
"At first sight it sounds silly to first [grind] rice and then reassemble
it with a machine."
TEXT: It may sound silly, but it worked. In a 2006 study in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition
, Moretti and colleagues mixed grains of
fortified pseudo-rice in with real rice and served it to iron-deficient school
children in India. Anemia fell by half among these children, while those who
just ate regular rice did not improve. And the children could not tell the
difference between fortified and unfortified rice.
Mark Beinner (BEYE-ner) at Brazil's Federal University of Minas Gerais (MEE-nah
zher-ICE) just published a study in the January issue of the Journal of
Nutrition in which he and his Brazilian colleagues used a version of this
imitation rice to help improve the iron intake in very young children. He says
when produced commercially at an industrial scale, the added cost is minimal.
Brown University's Jennifer Friedman works in maternal and child health in the
developing world. She says starting commercial production of the fortified rice
is an essential first step.
AUDIO: CUT 3 FRIEDMAN
"But maintaining that over time is what's very hard. Really keeping that
going, making sure those companies stay in business. Marketing that product in
a way that people who often don't want to change their lifestyle and what
they're doing is the other part that becomes costly."
However, the nonprofit organization PATH is giving it a try, working to
commercialize a version called Ultra Rice in Brazil, Colombia, and India.