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Iron Sprinkles Seen as a Way to Aid Poor Children's Health

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

The World Health Organization says iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. The W.H.O. estimates that as many as eighty percent of people may not be getting enough iron in their diet. Iron deficiency and anemia are especially common among children in developing countries.

The body needs iron to manufacture hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body tissues. The body also needs iron to produce several enzymes necessary for muscle, the brain and the body’s defenses to work correctly.

Iron is stored in bone marrow and two organs, the spleen and liver. Iron deficiency is the main cause of anemia. A person becomes anemic when iron levels are severely reduced.

Adults who do not get enough iron get tired more quickly. And there are special risks for pregnant women. But risks for children can be much more serious, especially in the first two years of life. Iron deficiency can harm physical and mental development.

Health experts say iron deficiency is the most common nutritional problem that is preventable. But foods with a lot of iron, such as meats, are often too costly for poor families. And many children do not like the taste of iron supplements.

A Canadian scientist, Doctor Stanley Zlotkin, says he has a solution. Iron and other minerals necessary for good health can be processed into very small particles. These sprinkles are covered with a neutral food product to hide the taste. Doctor Zlotkin says the mixture can be easily added to food and mixed together.

He says the sprinkles come in the amount needed to meet a child’s daily need for iron at a cost of three cents or less a day. There is also vitamin C, which helps the body process iron, and vitamin A, zinc, and folic acid.

Sprinkles are already in limited use. Doctor Zlotkin says his goal is to expand the use of sprinkles in the nutrition policy of all developing countries. Earlier this year, Doctor Zlotkin and other scientists reported on successful tests in West Africa. The Public Library of Science published the findings. Internet users can read the report free of charge at publiclibraryofscience -- all one word -- dot o-r-g.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports are online at I'm Gwen Outen.