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Fortified Meals Provided in Preschools in India Reduced Anemia and Improved Children’s Language and Social-emotional Development

A new study shows fortifying preschool meals with multiple micronutrient powder reduced anemia and iron deficiency while increasing neurobehavioral development

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—In a recently published study by Maureen Black, Ph.D., a distinguished fellow in early childhood development at RTI International, a nonprofit research and global development institute, and 10 other researchers from India, Canada, and the U.S., found that adding multiple micronutrient powder to the first bites of the mid-day meals in government-sponsored preschools in India resulted in a striking reduction in anemia and iron deficiency and gains in children’s language, social-emotional, and inhibitory control.

The study, named Grow Smart, found that after eight months of adding micronutrients, the prevalence of anemia declined from 46.7% to 10.1%, compared to declines from 49% to 35.5% in the group without the added micronutrients, with corresponding improvements in iron status. It also led to gains in children’s language of the equivalent of about 6 IQ points, in social-emotional development of about 4.5 IQ points, and in inhibitory control of about 3 IQ points, especially in low-quality preschools.

“The gains in children’s health and neurobehavioral development mean that they are better prepared to learn and to take advantage of opportunities in primary school, and beyond, advancing human capital development,” said Dr. Black. “Adding micronutrients to mid-day meals in preschools may be a cost-effective method of improving the health and neurobehavioral development of millions of young children throughout the world.”

Preschool age is a period of rapid brain development and plasticity and investing in programs that support children’s neurobehavioral development, such as Grow Smart, can benefit entire countries by enhancing children’s human capital development. The prevalence of anemia and iron deficiency often exceeds 40% among young children in Africa and south Asia, largely due to food insecurity and a diet low in iron and other micronutrients.

The micronutrients had no impact on the children’s growth. Rates of stunting at 41.1%, and underweight at 46.1% did not change, nor did the prevailing rates of diarrhea and respiratory infections, which were monitored monthly. These findings show that nutrients can benefit neurobehavioral development without impacting growth.

Grow Smart, a randomized, double-blind controlled trial, was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in India. The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition and funded by Micronutrient Initiative in Canada and the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition in the USA. 

To read the full study, click here.