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Increased mortality in children with mild vitamin A deficiency.

An average of 3481 preschool-age rural Indonesian children were re-examined every 3 months for 18 months. The mortality rate among children with mild xerophthalmia (night blindness and/or Bitot's spots) was on average 4 times the rate, and in some age groups 8 to 12 times the rate, among children without xerophthalmia. Mortality increased, almost linearly, with the severity of mild xerophthalmia (night blindness, Bitot's spots, and the two combined).

These relations persisted after stratification for respiratory disease, wasting, gastroenteritis, pedal oedema, and childhood exanthems. Mild vitamin A deficiency was directly associated with at least 16% of all deaths in children aged from 1 to 6 years. These results suggest that mild xerophthalmia justifies vigorous community-wide intervention, as much to reduce childhood mortality as to prevent blindness, and that night blindness and Bitot's spots are as important as anthropometric indices in screening children to determine which of them need medical and nutritional attention.