Lack Of Bushmeat Could Increase Child's Risk Of Anemia
November 23, 2011

Lack Of Bushmeat Could Increase Child’s Risk Of Anemia

According to a new study, taking bushmeat out of a child's diet could increase their chances of anemia.

The study found that the loss of access to wildlife as a source of food would lead to a 29 percent jump in the number of children suffering from anemia.

The researchers said that among children in the poorest households, there would be a three-fold increase in the incidence of anemia.  Anemia in children can impair growth and cognitive development.

"When thinking of creating protected areas for diversity, policymakers need to take into consideration how that will impact local people, both in livelihoods and from a health perspective," study lead author Christopher Golden from the University of California - Berkeley and leader of the research, said in a press release.

"We need to find ways to benefit the local population in our conservation policies, not hurt them."

Bushmeat is consumed by hundreds of millions of people around the world and is a key source of bio-available iron, especially for those living in rural communities.

However, the researchers said that when the menu includes endangered species, human nutritional needs must contend with efforts to manage wildlife resources.

The team believes that increased consumption of wildlife would result in a reduced incidence of clinical anemia.

They tested their theory by monitoring the diet and hemoglobin levels of 77 children living in the Makira Protected Area of Madagascar every month or year.

The region is a remote part of eastern Madagascar and relies heavily upon local wildlife like lemurs and bats for food.

Children who ate more bushmeat during the study period had higher levels of hemoglobin, which is an iron-containing protein in red blood cells.

The team found that bushmeat accounted for up to 20 percent of overall meat consumed in the region.

"It is clearly not environmentally sustainable for children to eat endangered animals, but in the context of remote, rural Madagascar, households don't always have a choice," Lia Fernald, UC Berkeley associate professor in the School of Public Health, who worked with Golden to design the study, said in a press release. "In places where a diverse range of nutritious food is unavailable, children rely upon animal-source foods — milk, eggs and meat — for critical nutrients like fats, protein, zinc and iron."

The authors of the study said there is a need for site-specific and culturally relevant solutions.

"In our study area, domesticated meat is actually desirable, but unaffordable, so one possible solution is to support programs that allow the people there to raise chickens or goats," Golden said in a press release.

"But in places like Africa's Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, bushmeat is a desirable luxury item, so simply offering people there domesticated chicken meat as an alternative may not be successful. The sustainability of any type of conservation project relies upon local buy-in."

The research was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Image Caption: A man prepares an aye-aye, a rare type of lemur found only on the island of Madagascar, as his younger brother walks by. These primates are a source of food for local inhabitants, despite being critically endangered. (Photo by Christopher Golden)


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