The aim of this study was to assess the vitamin A and anthropometric status of South African preschool children from four areas with known distinct eating patterns.
Serum retinol, anthropometric indicators, and dietary intake were determined for randomly selected preschool children from two rural areas, i.e. KwaZulu-Natal (n = 140) and Limpopo (n = 206); an urban area in the Northern Cape (n = 194); and an urban metropolitan area in the Western Cape (n = 207).
Serum retinol <20 μg/dL was prevalent in 8.2% to 13.6% children. Between 3% (urban-Northern Cape) and 44.2% (rural-Limpopo) children had received a high-dose vitamin A supplement during the preceding 6 mo. Vitamin A derived from fortified bread and/or maize meal ranged from 65 μg retinol activity equivalents (24%–31% of the Estimated Average Requirement) to 160 μg retinol activity equivalents (58%–76% Estimated Average Requirement). Fortified bread and/or maize meal contributed 57% to 59% of total vitamin A intake in rural children, and 28% to 38% in urban children. Across the four areas, stunting in children ranged from 13.9% to 40.9%; and overweight from 1.2% to 15.1%.
Prevalence of vitamin A deficiency was lower than national figures, and did not differ across areas despite differences in socioeconomics, dietary intake, and vitamin A supplementation coverage. Rural children benefited more from the national food fortification program in terms of vitamin A intake. Large variations in anthropometric status highlight the importance of targeting specific nutrition interventions, taking into account the double burden of overnutrition and undernutrition.