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Vitamin A deficiency and anemia: alarming public health problems among the tribal Rathwa adolescents of Chota Udepur, Gujarat, western India: a cross-sectional study

Vanisha S Nambiar, Kuhu Roy, Nishita Patel, Chitrarpita Saha.

Background: There are 573 scheduled tribes living in India and 15% of Gujaratís population is tribal. They are particularly vulnerable to undernutrition because of their geographical isolation, socioeconomic disadvantage and inadequate health facilities

Objective: To assess the nutritional status of the Rathwa tribal adolescents registered under the government-run schools of the newly formed district of Chhota Udepur, Gujarat, western India.

Materials and Methods: It was a cross-sectional study where five tribal schools were selected purposively in Chhota Udepur. All the students attending 6th and 7th standards (n = 280) were enrolled for nutritional status assessment; however, due to lack of attendance, final data were presented for 150 subjects. Background information, dietary profile, anthropometric indices, and biochemical estimations on a subsample for hemoglobin, complete blood count and red cell morphology (n = 60) were included for nutritional status assessment.

Results: Boys (44.9%) and girls (44.4%) were found to be equally suffering from severe thinness (44.7%). Overall prevalence of night blindness (26.7%), conjunctival xerosis (1.3%), Bitotís spot (21.3%), corneal xerosis (0.7%), and corneal scar (2.7%) highlights that Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in this area. Besides low hemoglobin, over 90% subjects had a diminutive MCH and MCV levels indicative of anemia other than iron deficiency such as microcytic anemia.

Conclusion: Considering the alarming public health prevalence of micronutrient malnutrition among the tribal adolescents, urgent measures to improve their living and dietary conditions are needed. Improving the quality of free meals along with nutrition education is immediately recommended.

Key words: Tribal adolescent school children, iron deficiency anemia, Vitamin A deficiency, nutritional status, mid-day meal program, Rathwas, Chhota Udepur

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