A novel way of tackling the problem of anaemia in children has been created with help from the HJ Heinz food group. The company claims that recent research shows that Supplefer Sprinkles - iron and vitamin C supplements which can be easily added to a range of foodstuffs - can help reduce the rate of iron deficiency in children.
Supplefer Sprinkles contain iron and vitamin C nutrients encapsulated in a thin soy-based coating and do not change the colour or taste of food.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was carried out by Dr Stanley Zlotkin, senior researcher, at the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.
He studied 557 anaemic children aged six to 18 months in Ghana, giving one group Supplefer Sprinkles once a day while another received iron drops three times a day for two months. All the infants involved had a diet of a weaning food in addition to breast milk and displayed haemoglobin levels of 70-99 g/L at the start of the trial. Haemoglobin and serum ferritin concentrations were measured at the end of treatment and compared to the baseline level assessed at the start of trial. Children who were severely anaemic (haemoglobin levels less than 70 g/L) were excluded from the trial.
The mothers with infants in the Sprinkles group received a sachet of Sprinkles with ascorbic acid, which was added to the child's meal after it was cooked, once daily. The mothers with infants in the drops group received a single bottle of ferrous sulphate every four weeks.
Some side effects were noted, including diarrhoea, constipation and general discomfort after ingestion, but these were rare in both groups, Dr Zlotkin said.
Fifty-eight per cent of infants in the drops group and 56 per cent of infants in the Sprinkles group were cured of anaemia. There was no statistically significant difference between the success rates in the use of Sprinkles and iron drops, although investigators did note that 74 per cent of children taking drops cried or objected, compared with just 16 per cent of children eating the powdered sprinkles. This clinical trial is the first time microencapsulated iron was used for the treatment of anaemia.
"Parents now have an alternative to iron drops, which have a metallic taste and may cause abdominal pain and stained teeth," he said. "A single-dose packet of the Supplefer Sprinkles is inexpensive to produce and can easily be tailored for the child's nutritional needs. We are optimistic that this program can be replicated in many other countries where anaemia is a big health problem."
Heinz said that Supplefer Sprinkles cost only a few cents per day and may contain many other nutrients in addition to iron, such as vitamin A and D, folic acid and zinc. They are designed to be sprinkled or stirred into any food, including rice, barley or porridge. Each sachet is a single dose and does not require special measuring or handling, the firm added. One packet per day should be sufficient to combat anaemia levels.
Dr Zlotkin and the Metabolic Research Group at the Hospital for Sick Children developed the Supplefer Sprinkles to reduce global childhood anaemia, and Heinz is funding the project over a three-year period, as well providing technical support and other financial support.
Dr Zlotkin is also studying anaemia and the efficacy of Supplefer Sprinkles among the First Nations and Inuit populations of Canada. Trials are underway in Northern Canada and in communities where iron-rich foods are expensive and not readily available. Clinical trials have also begun in Mongolia, and an efficacy study has been launched in China