Public Health Nutrition

Monitoring and surveillance

The potential role of small fish species in improving micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries: building evidence

Nozomi Kawarazukaa1 p1 c1 and Christophe Bénéa1 p2

a1 Policy, Economics and Social Sciences, The WorldFish Center, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Jalan Batu Maung, Batu Maung, 11960 Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia


Objective To build a comprehensive overview of the potential role of fish in improving nutrition with respect to certain micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries.

Design A comprehensive literature review was completed. For this the electronic library databases ASFA, CABD and Scopus were systematically searched and relevant references cited in these sources were carefully analysed. The search terms used were ‘fish’, ‘small fish species’, ‘micronutrients’, ‘food-based strategies’, ‘fish consumption’ and ‘developing countries’. The quality of data on nutritional analyses was carefully reviewed and data that lacked proper information on methods, units and samples were excluded.

Results The evidence collected confirmed the high levels of vitamin A, Fe and Zn in some of the small fish species in developing countries. These small fish are reported to be more affordable and accessible than the larger fish and other usual animal-source foods and vegetables. Evidence suggests that these locally available small fish have considerable potential as cost-effective food-based strategies to enhance micronutrient intakes or as a complementary food for undernourished children. However, the present review shows that only a few studies have been able to rigorously assess the impact of fish consumption on improved nutritional status in developing countries.

Conclusions Further research is required in areas such as determination of fish consumption patterns of poor households, the nutritional value of local fish and other aquatic animals and the impact of fish intake on improved nutritional status in developing countries where undernutrition is a major public health problem.

(Received July 26 2010)

(Accepted March 09 2011)

(Online publication May 20 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email

p1 Correspondence address: School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

p2 Present address: Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, East Sussex, UK