When Two is Enough

Vitamin Angels seeks to raise awareness of nutritional deficiencies for children and mothers in their 20th year.
By Amy Vergin

“Somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 children go blind annually as a result of vitamin A deficiency,” says Kim Saam, marketing and communications manager for Vitamin Angels. “But with two simple doses of vitamin A supplementation a year, that number can be reduced by 68 percent.”

Vitamin Angels—a nonprofit organization that gives vitamins and minerals to children and mothers in need around the world—is celebrating its 20th year in 2014. With multiple campaigns annually (the most recent being the Hidden Hunger and Give Childhood campaigns) they strive to convey the importance of vitamin A. Their 20th anniversary campaign will feature a year-long rollout with a special focus on the 2014 Natural Products Expo West show held this month.

“Since it is our 20th anniversary and we got our start in the natural product industry, first and foremost we want to make it clear that we are so thankful to all the companies within the industry that make our work possible,” Kim says. With the assistance of hundreds of corporate donors, Vitamin Angels helped 30 million children in 45 countries in the last year alone. “Rainbow Light and Now Foods are actually, I believe, the only two companies that have been consistent supporters of us since we started. That’s a pretty noteworthy achievement for them.”

But why focus on vitamin A? Kim says the research speaks for itself. “It’s been shown through numerous international development explorations like the Copenhagen Consensus to be the best investment in terms of both cost effectiveness and general effectiveness. Two doses of vitamin A per year for a child under five will reduce their mortality rate from all causes by about 24 percent.” And the price to provide these two doses to each child? A mere 25 cents.

The latest research from UNICEF showed that malnutrition—including deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc—causes 45 percent of deaths for children under five, or 3.1 million deaths annually. Though that number is staggering, there is good news as the mortality rate of children under five has dropped 47 percent since 1990.

Children and pregnant mothers are Vitamin Angels’ primary focus. “From a nutrition standpoint, anything you’re lacking in those first two years of life is going to create irreversible damage,” Kim says. As for the mothers, Vitamin Angels provides them with prenatal vitamins to give them and their babies the nutrients they need.

However, Kim says, Vitamin Angels struggles to fight the lack of awareness people have of this dilemma. “Everyone has heard of AIDS and malaria and breast cancer, but they aren’t like, ‘Oh gosh, 190 million children are vitamin A deficient!’ It’s like, ‘What does that mean? And why should I care?’”

Most of our foods in the US are fortified with vitamins, including vitamin A. Because of this—and because of the small amount of vitamin A needed to become sufficient—the problem gets looked over.

The children Vitamin Angels helps typically eat single-source diets made up most commonly of potatoes or rice, which, of course, is not fortified with any extra nutrition. This lack of nutrient diversity weakens their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to common illnesses like measles or diarrhea. Adding the small dose of vitamin A boosts the children’s immune systems which will also reduce the rate of childhood blindness.

Kim says they do hear updates from the people they help. “[We] hear moms saying that this current baby that I had while taking the prenatals was two pounds bigger and my pregnancy was so much easier and the delivery was better. And the child is doing so much better than their older siblings who didn’t have the benefit of prenatals.” News like this helps Vitamin Angels know how important their work is.

There are still many children and mothers in need in both the US and countries around the world. With a goal of helping 40 million people in 2014, Vitamin Angels will be working fervently this year to get their message out. But Kim, along with everyone else at Vitamin Angels, is confident that they will continue to meet their goals to reach both those in need and those able to help.