Purpose: Vitamin A deficiency is among major health problems worldwide that leads to blindness, retarded growth and death, particularly in developing countries. In these countries, vitamin A deficiency largely affects pre-school children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and the rural poor. For instance, the predicted prevalence of vitamin A deficiency for 36 sub-Saharan African countries is 19.1%.
Methods: Different strategies, including vitamin A supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversification, have been used to combat this problem. However, these strategies are not sustainable due to their high costs.
Results: Orange-fleshed sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L. Lam) is a low priced crop, which is part of staple foods in most of sub-Saharan Africa that can be a year-round source of vitamin A. Most of the orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties contain 3000-16000 μg 100 g(-1) of β-carotene and this contributes to 250 to 1300 μg 100 g(-1) Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). Therefore, by using orange-fleshed sweet potato, it is possible to improve vitamin A status, increase the bio-availability of different micro-nutrients such as Fe, Zn, Ca and Mg, reduce vitamin A deficiency and hence reduce child mortality rates by 23 to 30%.
Conclusion: The article highlights the significance of vitamin A for human nutrition, the effect of vitamin A deficiency, the different prevention methods and the potential of orange- fleshed sweet potato as a food crop to prevent vitamin A deficiency.
Keywords: Ipomoea batatas; intervention strategies; orange-fleshed sweet potato; vitamin A deficiency; β-carotene.