A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that most fortified sugar sold at retail outlets in one Zambian community did not contain the minimum amount of vitamin A required by the government. Only 11 percent of sugar tested met the required minimum concentration of vitamin A.
Food fortification of staples like sugar, milk and salt ensure that people get essential nutrients. Zambia has required sugar fortification since 1998 to address high levels of vitamin A deficiency, which increases the risk of mortality for children and pregnant women and can lead to blindness.
The study, which was conducted with the Zambian National Food and Nutrition Commission, found that sugar arrived at local retail outlets with low levels of vitamin A. Factors at these shops that could degrade the nutrient, such as long storage times or exposure to sunlight, did not significantly affect vitamin A levels. This suggests that there is poor compliance with fortification standards at the factory level, where vitamin A is added, or poor storage practices during regional distribution, or both.
The findings were published online in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin.
“A number of causes could be preventing Zambia’s vitamin A sugar fortification from working. Our study was a first step in trying to pinpoint the cause or causes,” says Dr. Amanda Palmer, senior author and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of international health.