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CDC Offers Favorable Snapshot of Nation’s Nutrition Status

With its focus on disease outbreaks and other generally gloomy reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rarely seems to dispatch good news. 

So it was heartening to see Monday’s CDC press release announcing that the U.S. population, for the most part, is getting enough essential vitamins and nutrients – specifically vitamins A and D and folate — even though some groups need to address dietary deficiencies.

“Research shows that good nutrition can help lower people’s risk for many chronic diseases. For most nutrients, the low deficiency rates, less than 1 to 10 percent, are encouraging, but higher deficiency rates in certain age and race/ethnic groups are a concern and need additional attention,” said Christine Pfeiffer, Ph.D., lead researcher, in the Division of Laboratory Sciences in CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

Less than optimal vitamin and nutrient levels have been associated with myriad health risks, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, impaired cognitive function, cancer, eye diseases and weakened bones. 

The CDC’s favorable, although limited, review is the most comprehensive biochemical assessment ever of the nation’s nutritional status, drawn from analysis by the Division of Laboratory Sciences of blood and urine samples collected during the 1999 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The last such report was published in 2008. This Second Nutrition Report establishes blood and urine reference levels for 58 biochemical indicators; more than twice as many as before. And the new report includes first-time data for a new indicator of iron deficiency and for 24 healthy and unhealthy fatty acids.

Measurements of nutrient levels in blood and urine are critical, according to the CDC, because they show whether the total nutrients from foods and vitamin supplements are too low, too high or sufficient.

In very brief summary, the positive findings in the Second Nutrition Report include that:

– only 10 percent or less of the general U.S. population had nutrition deficiencies for vitamins B6, D, A, C, B12, E and folate.

– the country’s folate deficiency has dropped to less than 1 percent and blood folate levels in all race/ethnic groups are 50 percent higher since fortification of cereal-grain products with folic acid began in 1998. Before fortification, approximately 12 percent of women of childbearing age were deficient in folate, which is essential prior to and during pregnancy to help prevent some major birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida.

–  in general, younger adults had lower levels of fatty acids. Plasma levels of fatty acids were generally similar in men and women and for most fatty acids, and no consistent race/ethnic pattern was found. (Lowering saturated fatty acids is recommended to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease).

Of course, the reports findings do not necessarily indicate that people consume healthy and balanced diets.

And the report also details nutrition issues that need to be addressed.

For example, 31 percent of non-Hispanic blacks have vitamin D deficiency, despite clinical data showing greater bone density and fewer fractures in this group. “Further research is needed to explain why non-Hispanic blacks have better bone health but yet have a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency,” the CDC noted.

According to the report, the vitamin D deficiency rate was 12 percent for Mexican-Americans and 3 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

“Vitamin D is essential for good bone health but it may also improve muscle strength and protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes,” stated the executive summary.

Women of childbearing age and children were found to be at risk for iron deficiency, while men were at risk for iron excess.

The CDC study also found that young women 20-39 years of age, compared with all other women, had the lowest levels of iodine, an essential component of thyroid hormones that regulate human growth and development. Iodine is especially important to ensure the best possible brain development of a fetus during pregnancy. Iodine deficiency disorders include mental retardation, hypothyroidism, goiter, cretinism, and varying degrees of other growth and developmental abnormalities.

The CDC data on acrylamide, in a first-time assessment of exposure to the chemical naturally found in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, suggested there are differences in acrylamide metabolism among age groups. 

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