Since 2001 Childfund Kenya in Emali has supplied micronutrient fortified school meals to preschoolers from two ethnic groups (Maasai and Kamba) attending Early Childhood Development Centres (ECD) centres. Lack of information on the micronutrient status of the preschoolers prompted a cross-sectional assessment of anemia and inter-relationships among five micronutrients in the two groups.
Data on socio-demographic, health, anthropometric status, and micronutrient supply from preschool meals were collected from 217 Maasai and 287 Kamba aged 3-5 years attending 23 ECD centres. Non-fasting blood samples were collected for hemoglobin, plasma biomarkers of iron, zinc, selenium, vitamins D and A, C-reactive protein, a-1-glycoprotein and immunoglobin G.
Both anemia (39 vs. 6%) and zinc deficiency (39 vs. 22%) were higher (p<0.001) in Maasai than Kamba, whereas vitamin D and selenium deficiencies were low in both groups (P>0.05). Body iron explained 62% of hemoglobin variance for Maasai and 19% for Kamba. Other hemoglobin predictors were age and vitamin D for Maasai, and age and lower AGP for Kamba (p<0.02). Plasma zinc predictors were age for Maasai and plasma selenium for Kamba (p<0.05). Low body iron was associated with a 25 times greater risk of anemia for Maasai compared with 9 times for the Kamba.
Higher risk of iron and zinc deficiency among Maasai than Kamba was attributed to high consumption of cows milk low in bioavailable iron and zinc in place of fortified meals and possibly, a higher prevalence of chronic inflammation and intestinal damage.