CORVALLIS, Oregon — A nutrient-rich diet is often the key to preventing illness. But for some, that diet is unattainable. If the body does not receive enough iron, vitamin B12 and folate, the risk of anemia increases. In 2021, about 1.92 billion people suffered from anemia worldwide, approximately a quarter of the global population. Anemia causes symptoms such as tiredness, dizziness, headaches and weakness, which often complicate daily activities.
Studies show that anemia disproportionately impacts people in the lowest socioeconomic brackets. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in 2021 stood at about 30% of the population, indicating that many people in this region fall into the low socioeconomic status category and are thus more likely to experience anemia and other nutrient deficiencies.
Alan Espinosa proposes a solution—a snack packed with easily absorbed vitamins and minerals to reduce the risk of anemia. The product, known as Kiikter, prevents anemia in children in Latin America, where it is manufactured.
Anemia in Children
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 42% of children under the age of 5 are affected by anemia. In Latin America, 32.9% of preschool-aged children and 17.49% of primary school-aged children suffer from the disease. A study published in 2023 shows that anemia affects women and children disproportionately compared to men, with efforts to reduce anemia in women and children showing the least amount of progress over the years. A dietary iron deficiency is the main cause of anemia in children under 5, although other causes exist, such as infectious diseases.
Children in developing countries are at a greater risk as communities experiencing poverty may also suffer from malnutrition, depriving children of the nutrients needed to prevent anemia. Beyond the plethora of physical health complications, anemia in children is linked to the inability to focus in school, leading to poor academic performance. This can develop into low work productivity later in life, posing a larger problem of limited social and economic development for developing countries.
An Older Sister Who Takes Care of You
Alan Espinosa is a nutritional epidemiology doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a native of Mexico City. While working with indigenous Mayan communities, Espinosa witnessed many cases of anemia in children and his idea for a solution began to form, though it took four years of experimenting to perfect his product. Espinosa determined that the ideal combination of nutrients would include easily digestible encapsulated iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C.
In 2016, he developed a pudding prototype, but it required refrigeration — a luxury most impoverished communities do not have. He also experimented with a powdered formula, but communicating the correct water-to-powder ratio proved difficult. Finally, in 2020, Espinosa settled on a gel formula that requires no preparation or refrigeration.
Named Kiikter after a Mayan phrase meaning “an older sister who takes care of you,” the gel snack is Espinosa’s answer to Latin America’s anemia issue. The iron content in Kiikter is equivalent to a pound of beef, the folic acid content equals 1.1 cups of spinach, the vitamin B12 content equals 1.6 eggs, and the vitamin C content equals 9.6 apples. It has a shelf life of 14 months and does not require a prescription, making it easy to obtain and store.
Making Healthy Eating Fun
With the help of his two best friends, an engineer and a businessman, Espinosa designed Kiikter to cater to children. The jelly-like consistency of Kiikter is easy to swallow — an advantage for children who lack tongue control and strength. It also comes in strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, and orange flavors, with no trace of the hallmark metallic taste associated with most iron products. The colorful packaging and rhinoceros mascot appeal to children, making the snack more desirable.
The Future of Kiikter
Kiikter partners with nonprofits such as Save the Children to donate the nutrient-rich snack to children in at-risk communities in South America. The company also helps formulate nutritious school lunches with ingredients from local farms to benefit both schoolchildren and economies in developing countries. Kiikter is already available in 70 branches of the popular Mexican drugstore chain Farmacias de Ahorro. Espinosa hopes to not only expand to all 1,500 of its stores, but also to the US market where he believes Kiikter may appeal to vegans. He is currently negotiating with a grocery chain in the American Southwest.
Espinosa’s innovation ensures that children across Latin America are receiving the nutrients needed to grow up strong and healthy. Kiikter prevents anemia in these children and, in doing so, gives them the ability to pursue their dreams. The result is a healthy and productive society, all thanks to this super snack.
– Isabella Rothe