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New CDC report reveals nutritional bias for race and gender

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
nutrition, vitamins, folate, neural tube defects, gender, ethnicity

On April 4, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population. The report had some positive findings. For example, it noted that fortification of grain-based food products with folic acid (Vitamin B9) continues to minimize the chances for neural tube birth defects in most American women. However, it also noted some race and gender discrepancies in the nation.

The CDC conducts an ongoing assessment of the U.S. population’s nutritional status by measuring blood or urine concentrations of diet-and-nutrition biochemical indicators among various demographic subgroups. The researchers measured body fluid concentrations of 58 biochemical indicators, which are indicators for a healthy or unhealthy pattern of diet and nutrition. They calculated these values for demographic variables including age, ethnicity, and gender. Calculations were made for blood and urine concentrations of nutritional elements such as vitamins, fatty acids, trace elements, metabolites, and isoflavones.

Since 1998, fortification of grain-based food products with folic acid (Vitamin B9) has been required by law. The researchers found that less than 1% of American women of childbearing age have low serum and red blood cell levels of folate, regardless of ethnicity. Studies have demonstrated that an adequate intake of folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects. These defects manifest as spin bifida and anencephaly. The report also noted that non-Hispanic whites have the highest folic acid concentrations; however, non-Hispanic blacks have the lowest levels. Mexican Americans had intermediate levels.

Deficiencies in Vitamin A or Vitamin D were uncommon throughout the population; however, higher rates of Vitamin D deficiency were noted in 31.1% of the non-Hispanic blacks. The percentage was 3.6% of non-Hispanic whites and 11.3% for Mexican Americans. Age discrepancies were also noted in the report. For example, individuals aged 40 years or older were more likely to have a deficiency in Vitamin B6 or Vitamin B12 compared with younger individuals. The survey included first-time measurements for 24 plasma fatty acids. Low concentrations of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids were more likely to be found in younger adults. Heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid or eicosapentaenoic acid were present at higher concentrations in non-Hispanic black adults than in other ethnic groups. The survey included first-time measurements for 24 plasma fatty acids.

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Both abnormally low and abnormally high iron levels can cause health problems. Low iron levels results in anemia, whereas a high iron level can result in harmful iron deposits forming in organs including the brain. The researchers found that 10.9% of Mexican American children aged 1 to 5 years were iron deficient. For non-Hispanic blacks the rate was 16.0%. A review of Mexican American women aged 12 to 49 found that 13.2% were iron deficient. Adult males, regardless of ethnicity were more likely to have elevated iron levels. This finding can be explained by the fact that women lose blood (and the contained iron) when they menstruate; thus, they are less prone to suffering from abnormally high iron levels.

The complete report can be viewed at this link.

Take home message:

This report notes an overall trend towards improved nutritional status in the United States. Regardless of one’s age, gender, or ethnicity, a good nutritional status can be maintained by anyone by adhering to a healthy diet.

Reference: CDC