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Orange sweet potato may cut down the risk of diarrhoea in children

Posted:  Friday, June 19, 2015

Globally, diarrhoea is one of the top causes of mortality in children and a major chunk of health resources are spent on its management. Latest research has identified that a humble tuber - orange sweet potato may help cut the diarrhoeal incidences in children.

The first of its kind, the study demonstrated the benefits of orange sweet potato in tackling diarrhoea in children. The study population consisted of young children in Mozambique, classified into two groups of under five and under three children.

Consumption of orange sweet potato by children under 3 years of age decreased the possibility of having diarrhoea by a staggering 52 percent. Orange sweet potato also helped reduce the duration of diarrhoea in children under five years of age by more than 10 percent and in children under the age of three by at least 25 percent.

The principle behind this phenomenon is that orange sweet potato provides vitamin A in the form of beta carotene. This magical component helps the lining of the gut to form a protective barrier against foreign substances and harmful microbes like bacteria and virus. Thus, as diarrhoea is an infection caused by bacteria and/or virus, it can be kept at bay.

The study also found that the reduction in diarrhoeal incidence was more in children with educated mothers, who probably understand the health benefits of orange sweet potato and bring about the change children’s diets.

““Both vitamin A supplements and vitamin A-rich foods like orange sweet potato can provide sufficient vitamin A. From a public health perspective, they are complementary — neither alone is able to reach every child who needs vitamin A,” said Alan de Brauw, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

He further elaborates that alleviating this deficiency globally through supplements alone can cost almost $3 billion per year. However, orange sweet potato can provide vitamin A at a fraction of that cost. The study reiterates the fact that a food based approach is often more economically feasible and can be a key element of intervention strategies to deal with public health issues.

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