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Objectives: To describe baseline growth and prevalence of anaemia in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and young children enrolled in a nutrition promotion and anaemia prevention program in remote northern Australia.
Design: Retrospective review of most recent growth parameters and haemoglobin records during the 3 months prior to and 1 month after recruitment into a prospective study conducted between 25 May 2010 and 6 May 2012.
Setting: Primary health care clinics in six remote Aboriginal communities (east Kimberley, Western Australia (n = 1); Northern Territory (n = 4); Cape York, Queensland (n = 1)).
Participants: Two hundred and sixty-two of the estimated 311 (84%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and young children aged 6–24 months residing in participating communities.
Main outcome measures: Prevalence of anaemia, stunting, underweight and overweight at recruitment.
Results: At recruitment, 42% of participants were anaemic, 18% stunted, 5% underweight and 5% overweight. Anaemia prevalence was higher than estimates (26–27%) in routine surveillance programs in remote communities and substantially higher than estimates (1.8–4.9%) in the general Australian population. One-quarter of participants were anaemic prior to 6 months of age.
Conclusions: The unexpectedly high prevalence of anaemia and stunting in these communities highlight the need for continued preventive health programs focused on ensuring adequate nutrition amongst infants, young children and their mothers. The early onset of anaemia and stunting suggests a comprehensive anaemia prevention approach is needed, including greater emphasis on maternal and pre-pregnancy health and nutrition to increase infants’ iron stores at birth and sustain these to 6 months of age.
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