Objective: Our objective was to identify the determinants of anemia among rural Filipino children aged 12-71 months.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 2090 preschool children from 8 rural villages in Cebu, an area non-endemic for malaria and schistosomiasis. Hemoglobin (Hb) concentration was determined using a HemoCue hemoglobinometer and zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) concentration was measured with a hematofluorometer. A 3-day non-consecutive 24-hour food recall interview with the child's primary caregiver was done to estimate the child's dietary intake. Stool analysis for presence of soil-transmitted helminths was performed through a concentration technique. A separate interview on household socio-economic status with the child's primary caregiver was conducted.
Results: Mean Hb concentration was 12.0 g/dL (SD 1.3). 16.1% were anemic. Age and sex had a significant interaction in their effect on Hb concentration. Females had higher Hb concentration between 12 to 23 months of age. Hb levels equalize between the 2 genders at around 24 months and increase with similar increments until 71 months of age. All dietary parameters improved Hb concentration with increasing intake. In the multiple regression, however, only the index for bioavailable iron and vitamin C intakes remained independent factors. None of the helminths or combination of helminths had significant effects on Hb concentration. Among the socio-economic variables, maternal educational attainment and water supply were significant independent factors. Mean ZPP concentration was 72.07 (SD 46.45) and 30.8% were iron deficient. As with Hb concentration, age and sex had a significant interaction in their effect on ZPP concentration, with females having lower ZPP levels before 24 months of age. Bioavailable iron (animal iron + 0.3*plant iron) had a significant effect on ZPP concentration at levels of at least 15% of the iron requirement. This was seen even after controlling for multivitamin supplementation.
Conclusion: The control of anemia among preschoolers can be achieved through a combination of various nutritional interventions such as micronutrient supplementation, food fortification and nutrition education. Our findings emphasize the importance of a multi-sectoral approach to nutritional problems--the importance of empowering women (through engagement and education) and of maintaining a healthy physical environment (water and sanitation) are often peripheral concerns of nutritionists. Our study highlights the importance of supporting initiatives that address these issues not only for their core benefit, but also for the potential benefit to nutrition.