Children who are born in a community with insufficient micronutrients, particularly iodine in remote rural areas are associated with low intellectual functions and mental retardation. The aim of this cross-sectional study is to determine the mental performance of the schoolchildren in Bario, a highland settlement of the Kelabit people in the district of Baram, Sarawak and to determine its correlation with the availability of iodine in the environment, as well as other micronutrients such as selenium, copper and manganese. A total of 25 schoolchildren in Bario age ranging from 7 to 12 years old participated in the study. Mental performance of the schoolchildren were tested using TONI-2 (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence--second edition), a cognitive ability measures with a response format which eliminates language and reduces motoric and cultural factors. The iodine levels from several wells, soils and salt found in Bario were determined using HPLC (software version 3.05.01) whilst serum levels of selenium, copper and manganese were measured using Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer (GFAAS). The results showed that the median and mode scores of intelligence quotient for Bario were 82 and 75, respectively, whilst median and mode scores of intelligence percentile were 11.0 and 5.0, respectively. The maximum score achieved were at the average level with the quotient score between 90-110. It was found that salt produced from one of the wells in Bario contained high quantity of iodine. Based on standards established by the Trace Elements Laboratory, Roben Institute, University of Surrey, United Kingdom, schoolchildren in Bario are having sufficient blood levels of copper and a high selenium and manganese levels. Despite the remoteness of the study area, the schoolchildren in Bario, Sarawak showed higher mental performance compared to other isolated areas. This is probably correlated with the high micronutrients availability, particularly iodine, found naturally in Bario.
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