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Impact of nutrition education and mega-dose vitamin A supplementation on the health of children in Nepal

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Pant, C. R., G. P. Pokharel, et al. (1996). "Impact of nutrition education and mega-dose vitamin A supplementation on the health of children in Nepal." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 74(5): 533-545.

DESIGN: The impact on vitamin A deficiency (VAD), wasting malnutrition, and excessive childhood mortality of two alternative approaches - nutrition education and mega-dose capsule distribution (6-12-month-olds: 100 000 IU; 1-5-year-olds: 200 000 IU) - in communities in Nepal are compared. Approximately 40 000 children from 75 locations in seven districts in two ecological settings (lowland and hills) took part in the study and were randomly allocated to intervention cohorts or a control group. At 24 months after the implementation of the project the reduction of risk for xerophthalmia was greater among children whose mothers were able to identify vitamin-A-rich foods (relative risk (RR) = 0.25; 95% confidence interval (CI = 0.10-0.62) than among the children who received mega-dose capsules (RR = 0.59; 95% CI = 0.41-0.84). The risk of mortality at 2 years was reduced for both the nutrition education (RR = 0.64; 95% CI = 0.48-0.86) and capsule distribution (RR = 0.57; 95% CI = 0.42-0.77) cohorts. The nutrition education programme was, however, more expensive to deliver than the capsule distribution programme. High rates of participation for children in the supplementation programme were achieved quickly. The nutrition education messages also spread rapidly throughout the study population (regardless of intervention cohort assignment). Practices, however, were slower to change. In communities where maternal literacy was low and channels of communication were limited the capsule distribution programme appeared to be more economical. However, there are economies of scale for nationwide education programmes that do not exist for capsule distribution programmes. Although nutrition education provides economies of scale and the promise of long-term sustainability, a comprehensive national programme requires both dietary supplementation and nutrition education components.

RESULTS: The effectiveness of two approaches to vitamin A deficiency prevention--nutrition education and mega-dose capsule distribution--was compared in a 3-year study involving almost 40,000 children 6 months to 10 years of age from seven ecologically diverse districts in Nepal. The nutrition education program promoted increased intake of vitamin A-rich foods during the dry season, serving wild greens, and primary health care service utilization. At baseline, 44.9% of the study villages did not have any cases of Bitot's spots; by the third year, 65.5% were free of this sign of vitamin A deficiency. 85% of community risk variation was explained by agricultural patterns, market food availability, household income, maternal literacy, sanitation, and the village's average nutritional status. At 12 months, capsule distribution had reduced the risk of new Bitot's spots by 55% (relative risk (RR), 0.45; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.33-0.60); however, its impact had declined by 24 months and was non-significant at 36 months. At 24 months, the reduction of risk for xerophthalmia was greatest among children whose mothers were able to identify vitamin A-rich foods (RR, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.10-0.62) and were literate (RR, 0.06; 95% CI, 0.01-0.42). By 24 months, child mortality risk had declined in both the nutrition education (RR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.48-0.86) and capsule distribution (RR, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.42-0.77) groups. Although the effects of both programs were similar, the capsule program achieved higher coverage rates at a lower cost while the educational intervention provided economies of scale and potential for long-term sustainability. Most feasible would be a comprehensive national program that included both these components as well as maternal literacy training.

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