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Food Fortification Is Preventing Deficiencies That Affect 2 Billion People
Around 25% of the global population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies and food fortification is here to help
According to the WHO, an estimated 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies globally. That’s ~25% of the global population so there is a decent chance that I could be one of them.
If you think micronutrient deficiencies are limited to developing countries, you would be surprised. Data shows that in the US population, 94.3% not meeting the daily requirement for vitamin D, 88.5% for vitamin E, 52.2% for magnesium, 44.1% for calcium, 43.0% for vitamin A, and 92% suffer from some form of vitamin deficiency.
The solution? Food fortification.
What is food fortification?
Food fortification was introduced several decades ago with the goal of enhancing the nutrient content in commonly consumed foods such as grains and milk.
It’s the process of adding micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) to foods that don’t naturally have them and also involves putting back lost nutrients in processed foods.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are needed in tiny amounts by our bodies for healthy development, disease prevention, and well-being. Macronutrients, on the other hand, are nutrients that the body needs in large amounts to function optimally, eg: carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
What are some benefits of food fortification?
Improving nutrient intake and health outcomes
Food fortification enhances nutrient intake by providing us with essential vitamins and minerals we may lack in our diets. Specifically, through fortification, key nutrients such as iron, folic acid, and Vitamin D can be added to our food products, ensuring widespread access to these important nutrients.
Iron deficiency is the most common form of micronutrient malnutrition globally. Iron-deficiency anaemia can cause fatigue and decrease productivity, while Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures. Fortification of food with vitamins and minerals can help to reverse stunting and reduce anaemia in children up to the age of 6, and prevent nutritional anaemia in adults, which in turn can boost productivity, improve maternal health, and enhance cognitive development.
The fortification of grains with folic acid has been proven effective in reducing the occurrence of birth defects, such as neural tube defects (NTDs). Studies have demonstrated that the mandatory addition of folic acid to cereal grain products has resulted in an annual reduction of approximately 1,300 cases of neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborns in the United States.
Increasing accessibility and affordability
Food fortification is a simple yet powerful way to combat malnutrition. By adding essential vitamins and minerals to commonly consumed foods, this cost-effective approach provides widespread access to the nutrients people need to stay healthy.
This is especially valuable for low-income populations who may not have access to nutritious food, as fortification eliminates the need for them to purchase and take supplements.
In South Africa, wheat and maize flour are fortified with 6 vitamins and 2 minerals: vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine thiamine, folic acid, iron and zinc. Post-implementation surveys have found that fortification of maize flour and corn meal with vitamins and minerals has been shown to have a positive impact on health outcomes in the population.
Iodized salt has also been used to combat micronutrient deficiencies in low-income countries, with a benefit–cost ratio of around 30:1. This means that for every $1 spent on iodized salt, the benefits in terms of reduced micronutrient deficiencies are estimated to be worth about $30.
In 2020, Bangladesh teamed up with the World Food Programme of the United Nations to offer fortified rice at a reduced price to low-income families in Dhaka. The initiative aimed to reach 720,000 individuals in 144,000 households and is available at 120 locations in Dhaka North.
This cost-efficient and basic intervention have impacted the well-being and cognitive growth of millions, particularly those in economically challenged areas where obtaining iodine-rich sustenance is challenging.
Food fortification is a cost-effective and practical solution to tackle micronutrient deficiencies worldwide. By simply adding essential vitamins and minerals to everyday foods, we can significantly improve people’s nutrient intake, leading to better health, less disease, and greater accessibility and affordability.
The success of programs such as iodized salt in low-income countries shows us just how powerful this approach can be for improving the well-being and cognitive growth of millions of people, especially those who face challenges in obtaining nutritious food.
With 2 billion people affected by micronutrient deficiencies, it’s clear that food fortification is a vital part of creating a healthier and more nutritious future for everyone.