A healthy start for Indigenous infants

Iron deficiency in early life can stunt growth and impairs a child's development

Iron deficiency in early life can stunt growth and impairs a child's development

In a bid to combat the severe iron deficiencies many Indigenous infants experience, The Foundation is trialling an innovative nutritional supplement in the remote Northern Territory community of Ngukurr.

The Foundation's Health Promotion and Nutrition Development Coordinator, Danielle Aquino, says the ‘Sprinkles' iron supplement could play an essential role in giving Indigenous children the best start in life.

"Indigenous children in Australia are nearly 30 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to suffer from nutritional anaemia and malnutrition due to iron deficiencies in their diet," Aquino says.

"Anaemia in early life has significant health consequences. It impairs mental and motor development and increases the risk of developing chronic conditions like renal failure and diabetes in adult life."

Ngukurr children participating in the Sprinkles pilot project receive sachets of the supplement scattered daily across their meals.

Each single dose sachet contains enough iron to meet their daily requirement, along with micro nutrients such as zinc, iodine, vitamins and folic acid. The fact that Sprinkles does not change the taste or colour of the food is central to its successful uptake.

Aquino notes that for the first six months of life, infants rely on iron stores and breast milk to grow. A shortfall in iron at this stage of life can lead to micronutrient deficiency and stunted growth. Originally developed by the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, the dietary supplement has already been trialled successfully for infants with nutritional deficiencies over there, and also in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

"A good diet supplemented with iron, as well as education and information for parents on the best ways to feed a child, can make a real difference," says Aquino.

"The Foundation's Early Childhood Nutrition and Anaemia Prevention program will have a major impact on the health of Indigenous children living in this community right now. No child in Australia should be disadvantaged like this at such an early stage of their life."

In Ngukurr, a group of women have been trained to assist mothers with healthy feeding of their babies and introducing Sprinkles into their children's diets.

Speaking to the Katherine Times recently about the training they received at the Infant and Young Child Feeding Counselling workshops, Indigenous nutrition workers Amelia Huddleston and Marjorie Daniels said they have learnt "lots of good things" to pass on to mothers.

"We learnt what's good and what's not good for the baby [and about] breastfeeding, like what foods have high iron," Amelia said.

Marjorie said the training was valuable for the future of the community.

"We are doing this so we can go back and teach our young girls how to look after their babies," she said.

"This is really good for young people."

Aquino, who provided their training, said a sustainable community approach is essential to the success of the program.

"We are providing information to mothers, fathers, community elders, child health nurses, paediatricians, senior Aboriginal health workers and even to school aged children, who are often involved with infant feeding. This is so that entire communities get the knowledge they need to ensure the best health of their children," says Aquino.

Following the Ngukurr pilot, we are expanding the project to other Northern Territory and Western Australia communities. After this, it is expected that Sprinkles will be expanded into further regions of Australia.

"The Sprinkles supplement is just one dimension of The Foundation's commitment to ensuring people in remote communities receive the best advice around infant feeding," Aquino says.

The Early Childhood Nutrition and Anaemia Prevention program is continuing The Foundation's commitment to ‘closing the gap' in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

>Find out more about how The Fred Hollows Foundation is making a difference to Indigenous Health.

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