Hispanic Children at Much Greater Risk of Malnutrition

The Latino Post – January 6, 2014

Though it probably shouldn’t come as a complete shock to many, a new study published in the Pan American Journal of Public Health indicates that Hispanic children suffer much more from malnutrition and the long-term effects it brings than their white counterparts.

The study was conducted by Celia Iriart, Blake Boursaw, Gabriela P. Rodrigues,and Alexis J. Handal. The researchers reviewed the nutritional status in both Hispanic and non-Hispanic children with a representative sample of over 14,000 children from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The data for the NHANES was collected between 2003 and 2010.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” said Kevin Concannon of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) according to VOXXI. “It’s time to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people. Food security, the ability to obtain food without having to resort to emergency sources, is an important factor in the physical and mental development of children. Food hardships are even more pronounced among certain groups of children.”

The data consisted of information on children between age 2 and 19 living in the United States. The survey results suggest that Hispanic children were twice as likely to suffer from malnutrition as non-Hispanic whites.

The study also revealed that “stunting” was much higher among Hispanic children than non-Hispanic white children. “Stunting” refers to when a child’s height is significantly lower than it should be for their age.
“There is strong evidence that micronutrient deficits in early life play an important role in linear growth and may result in stunting,” the study notes. “This may be particularly true for Hispanic populations in the United States, especially immigrant populations who confronted prior nutritional challenges in their home countries.”
In the research 6.1 percent of Hispanic children suffered from stunting compared to 2.6 percent of white children. In the study, 38.2 percent of Hispanic children qualified as overweight or obese, while 29.8 percent of non-Hispanic white children met those criteria.

“Though stunting typically occurs in early childhood and is irreversible, understanding the interrelation between this condition and childhood weight status and micronutrient deficiencies is critical, especially when assessing the impact on older girls, as stunting in mothers increases the risk of this condition for their children, potentially perpetuating inequities over generations,” the study reads.

Micronutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin D, iron, folate and iodine were also much higher among Hispanic children. It found that 5.7 percent of Hispanic children were deficient in Vitamin D compared to 1 percent of non-Hispanics. Similarly, the rate of iron deficiency was 5.7 percent in Hispanics compared to 1 percent in non-Hispanics.
There was also a significant difference between boys and girls across the board. Among all girls, there was a Vitamin D deficiency in 7.2 percent and an iron deficiency in 8.9 percent. Boys had only a 4.2 percent and 5.3 percent deficiency respectively.

Micronutrients are not discussed much in in school health classes, but deficiencies in these important dietary supplements can have a big impact down the road.

“Iodine deficiency is associated with stunted growth and, in severe cases, mental retardation, in the form of cretinism,” the study says. “In the current study sample, iodine deficiency significantly affected more girls than boys, regardless of ethnicity, and in both sexes, healthy weight children were more affected than overweight/obese children.”

The survey concludes by suggesting more action should be taken to monitor the nutritional health of children in disadvantaged home situations, hich often includes Hispanic children.

“The results of this article draw attention to the need for more specific and differentiated analyses of child obesity and nutritional status among and within ethnic, sex, and age groups,” the study states in conclusion. “Appropriate public health interventions need to consider the entire range of weight statuses and micronutrient deficiencies to eliminate inequities among minority children, especially girls.”

“Understanding and eliminating micronutrient deficiencies, especially those that affect girls, could have important positive consequences for future generations. Although child growth and development are affected by multiple factors at the individual, family, and community levels, the results of this analysis suggest that tackling potential child development problems from a nutritional perspective, across generations, might be a particularly effective means of improving academic and social performance for the most disadvantaged children living in the United States.”

Continue reading…