One in two babies suffers from zinc deficiency: Study

Zinc
One in two children suffers from zinc deficiency, a study conducted on newborns and infants in three city hospitals has found.

The study, coordinated by the AIIMS paediatrics department, found that even babies born with a normal birth weight suffer from deficiency of the crucial micronutrient. Low birth weight infants have almost the same amount of zinc and the level drops with age.

The findings, which were published in international journal Neonatology, state that blood samples taken within 48 hours of birth revealed that 51 per cent of 182 low birth weight babies suffered from zinc deficiency, which can lead to stunted growth and poor immunity.

Of 103 normal weight newborns, 42.4 per cent didn't have the standard zinc level.

These babies were born at AIIMS, Kasturba and Swami Dayanand hospitals between 2009 and 2010, and were part of the ICMR-funded study.

Samples were studied again when these babies turned two to 10 months old. In the second leg of the study, 79 per cent of 100 low birth weight and 66.7 per cent of 66 normal infants were found to have inadequate amounts of zinc.

The researchers also found that 90.8 per cent of mothers carrying low birth weight children and 91.2 per cent of those who gave birth to normal weight babies were suffering from zinc deficiency.

Dr Ramesh Agarwal, associate professor of paediatrics at AIIMS and corresponding author of the study, said zinc levels could have fallen after birth because their mothers' milk, the primary source of zinc for infants, didn't have sufficient amount of the micronutrient.

"We analysed the serum zinc levels in newborns and infants. We don't think a newborn's birth weight played a significant role because the deficiency levels were similar in both groups. As low birth weight babies grew older, the deficiency levels dropped significantly despite being given supplements," Dr Agarwal said.

After birth, 36 per cent of low birth weight and 18.2 per cent of normal infants in the study group were given multi-vitamin supplements for zinc.

Doctors said low birth weight infants were likely to suffer from zinc deficiency because many of them were premature born. "Most of the zinc is accumulated during the final trimester of pregnancy. Pre-term babies have limited capacity to absorb and retain micronutrients," a doctor said.

The doctors said the role of supplementation should be explored to control deficiencies.

ALL THAT ZINC

A crucial micronutrient, zinc helps in protein synthesis, several metabolic reactions and develop the immune response system

Deficiency can lead to stunted growth, poor immunity, and age-related degeneration

WHO data from 2009 says zinc deficiency accounts for four per cent of deaths of children under five years of age globally

South and Central Asia has the largest deficiency

Dearth of data on zinc deficiency among children in India and other developing countries, particularly for low birth weight infants

Sources

All high-protein food such as beans, lentils, meat products, almonds, cashew nuts

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