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Nutritional assessment of agricultural migrant workers in southern Brazil Swann, Marjorie Anne

Abstract

With the urbanization phenomenon, a population of unskilled migrant workers commonly known as Boia- Frias has rapidly grown up in slums on the peripheries of Brazilian cities. This study was carried put to assess the food habits and nutritional status of 100 Boia-Fria families of Vila Recreio, a slum area on the edge of Ribeirao Preto, S.P., Brazil, using dietary, anthropometric, and biochemical investigations. Qualitatively, the Boia-Fria diet was monotonous and simple, consisting basically of polished rice, beans, white bread, and coffee with sugar. In general, the foods which were lacking were: milk products, meats, fish, eggs, poultry, non-refined grain products, and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins A and C. Foods of low nutritional value such as starchy gruels, sugar-water, herb tea, coffee with sugar and soft drinks were commonly used as weaning foods. Although dietary practices of pregnant and lactating women were poor, breastfeeding was still practiced by most mothers. According to 24-hour dietary recall data, conditions existed which were conducive to the development of nutritional problems, especially with respect to calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, and iron, of the nutrients tested and with respect to quantitative intake of food. Biochemical data confirmed the presence of early malnutrition, pre-clinical in nature for about 257o of the population with respect to vitamin A, carotene, and iron. Plasma cholesterol, total lipid and vitamin E values were found to be normal. Anthropometric examinations revealed clear signs of clinical undernutrition among men and women as well as some degree of obesity among women. Child mortality data provided evidence of some advanced clinical malnutrition among children. Basic causes of malnutrition among the Boia-Frias included the following ecological factors: recent urbanization; housing, sanitation, and environmental conditions, associated with serious infection problems; poverty; illiteracy; and an ignorance of what constitutes good nutrition. Recommendations for intervention and "long-range" nutrition programs to minimize the harsh effects of poverty and upheaval on these migrant workers of Brazil were suggested.

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