Nutritional status of indigenous children at boarding schools in northern Mexico

J Monárrez-Espino, H Martínez, V Martínez, T Greiner
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004, 58 (3): 532-40

OBJECTIVE: To assess the nutritional status of Tarahumara children at indigenous boarding schools.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional comprehensive nutritional survey.

SETTING: The schools sampled were located in indigenous municipalities of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

SUBJECTS: The study was carried out in 2001 among 331 children aged 6-14 y from a sample of five schools. Anthropometric measurements, a thyroid exam and capillary haemoglobin levels were obtained from the children. Serum concentrations of ferritin, iron, total iron-binding capacity, vitamin B(12), folic acid and zinc were collected from a subsample of 100 children.

RESULTS: The prevalence of wasting and overweight (children 6-9 y) was 1.1 and 4.6%, respectively, and of underweight, risk of overweight and overweight (10-14 y) was 3.2, 5.1 and 0.6%, respectively. Stunting (6-12 y) was present in 22.3% of the children. The total goitre rate was 5.4%. The prevalence of anaemia was 13% (boys 11.4, girls 14.5%). Overall, 24.2% of the children were iron deficient (depletion 11.1%, deficient erythropoiesis 3%, iron deficiency anaemia 10.1%). No child had folic acid values <3 ng/ml, but 20.2% had low (<200 microg/dl) and 27.3% marginal (200-300 microg/dl) vitamin B(12) levels, and 80.2% had low zinc concentrations (<60 microg/dl).

CONCLUSIONS: Nutritional underweight and stunting were similar to those reported in rural localities at the national level, but overweight was less prevalent in children aged 10-14 y. Various micronutrient deficiencies was identified including zinc and vitamin B(12), but the prevalence of iron and folic acid deficiency was lower than expected. These results suggest that Tarahumara children attending boarding schools may be the better-off children from these extremely poor and marginalized areas.

SPONSORSHIP: Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries and the Mexican Social Security Institute.

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