BACKGROUND: Though a major public health problem of nutritional anaemia in schoolchildren is being addressed by iron supplementation and/or fortified food, they continue to be anaemic. We aimed to study the effect of fluoride consumption on haemoglobin levels and whether elimination of fluoride from the diet would correct anaemia in children.
METHODS: Two hundred and fifty adolescent girls, 10-17 years of age, from a government senior secondary girls school in East Delhi, participated in the programme. Only those girls who were dewormed in the school health programme and not on any medication particularly for malaria, were included. The investigations done were (i) haemoglobin level; (ii) fluoride content in urine; and (iii) fluoride content in drinking water both at home and in school. The anaemic students consuming safe drinking water with fluoride level <1.0 mg/L and with urine fluoride >1.0 mg/L were introduced to interventions, viz. diet editing and diet counselling when parents came for the monthly parent-teacher meeting. Besides the parents, their wards and class teachers also attended the counselling session. The students were monitored by re-testing haemoglobin and urine fluoride levels at 1, 3 and 6 months after the start of the intervention.
RESULTS: There was an inverse relationship in the levels of urine fluoride and haemoglobin. Reduction in the level of urine fluoride led to a rise in the haemoglobin level. Following interventions, the haemoglobin level revealed significant improvement from the anaemic (<12.0 g/dl) to the non- anaemic range (12.0-14.4 g/dl). At 6 months of follow-up, of the 244 girls studied, those with severe anaemia decreased from 3% to 1%, with moderate anaemia from 97% to58% and the non-anaemic girls increased from 0% to 41%.
CONCLUSION: Non-toxic nutritive food and safe water with fluoride level < 1.0 mg/L are useful in improving haemoglobin levels in a high percentage of anaemic schoolchildren. A haemoglobin level of > 12.0-14.4 g/dL is an achievable target in children without iron supplementation.