While micronutrient deficiency is a health burden worldwide, developing countries bear the brunt of its effects.
Vitamin B12 deficiency in particular is prevalent in certain parts of Asia and Europe, and evidence of juvenile vitamin B12 deficiency's adverse effects on neural tube development, growth, immunity, and cognitive functioning has been mounting.
Boys lacking B12
A cross-sectional study led by the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology was carried out to assess the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in otherwise healthy Indian school-going adolescents, based on sex, BMI, and area of residence.
The link between serum vitamin B12 concentration and dietary vitamin B12 intake, as well as anthropometric indices, was examined in the study participants.
The researchers recruited 2,403 school children aged 11 to 17 from the National Capital Region and rural areas of Haryana in India, and estimated their serum B12 levels.
Using two 24-hour diet recalls, they also conducted dietary assessments on 65% (1,556) of the total number of subjects.
Afterwards, they reported that the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency among the overall study population was 32.4%. Among the rural children, the prevalence was 43.9%, and 30.1% among urban children.
In addition, 34.4% of boys were vitamin B12 deficient, compared with 31% of girls.
A weighty issue
The researchers wrote: "Based on weight status, a significantly higher prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency was observed among overweight (39.8%) and obese (51.2%) compared to normal weight (28.1%) adolescents."
They added that serum B12 levels were inversely associated with obesity across the board, and positively associated with dietary vitamin B12 intake in the urban subjects.
They also suggested "well-planned state-wide studies on various anthropometric, biochemical and dietary parameters" for an accurate assessment of the nutritional status of school-going adolescents in India.
In conclusion, they wrote: "To reduce the prevalence of vitamin B12 deﬁciency among adolescents, the increased consumption of animal food products must be encouraged. Thus, the higher prevalence of vegetarianism in India can become a potential problem in this case.
"Food fortiﬁcation hence becomes a feasible, cost-effective, reliable and practical approach for combating or reducing vitamin B12 deﬁciency and associated complications.
"Government guidelines are available for the fortification of cereals, especially wheat flour; however, this is not mandatory at present and the outreach through various channels is difficult and miniscule."
Source: Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
"Prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in healthy Indian school-going adolescents from rural and urban localities and its relationship with various anthropometric indices: a cross-sectional study"
Authors: S. Chakraborty, et al.