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Micronutrient Fortification Of Widely Consumed Foods Enhancing The Health And Wellness Of At Risk Populations

Micronutrients--small but critical keys to growth and development

Vitamins, as well as minerals such as iron, zinc and iodine play crucial roles in regulating human growth, physical and cognitive development, immune response and reproduction. Though needed by the body in only minute amounts, these micronutrients are critical to well-being and even survival, especially during childhood, and for women, the childbearing years. Chronic micronutrient deficiencies resulting from inadequate diets can seriously compromise physical and mental health, sometimes irreversibly.

Tragically, large segments of the world's population suffer the consequences of chronic or acute micronutrient deficiencies.

  • The most common nutritional disorder worldwide is iron deficiency anemia, or IDA. IDA affects an estimated 50 percent of children, 42 percent of women and 26 percent of men in developing countries. IDA lowers resistance to disease, impairs development, reduces stamina, and increases the risk of neonatal and maternal mortality.

  • Vitamin A deficiency, another major nutritional imbalance in developing countries, contributes to 2.2 million deaths annually from diarrhea among children under five years of age, and to the nearly one million deaths from measles.

  • Folic acid and other B vitamin deficiencies can lead to birth defects, arteriosclerosis and ischemic heart disease; thiamine and niacin deficiencies can cause Beriberi and pellagra, respectively. Riboflavin deficiencies can be detrimental to children and pregnant women by contributing to poor digestion, retarded growth and slowed mental responses.

  • Brain damage and physical impairment due to iodine deficiency affects an estimated 43 million people worldwide.

  • Zinc deficiency, widespread among women in developing countries, increases the risk of maternal and infant deaths, and also elevates susceptibility to infectious disease in children.

What can be done to alleviate the widespread hidden hunger of iron and other micronutrient deficiencies? One promising cost-effective approach is food fortification, the addition of small quantities of essential vitamins and minerals to regularly consumed foods. Fortifying staple foods with the micronutrients that are essential to health and well being can improve the lives and productive potential of millions of people worldwide. SUSTAIN is working to advance food fortification in a number of innovative ways:

  • By encouraging and supporting regional initiatives to iron fortify corn masa flour, a popular food staple in Mexico and Central America, including sponsoring research relevant to these efforts.

  • By hosting an international workshop to address confusion over the bioavailability of elemental iron fortificants, the most commonly used iron fortificants worldwide.

  • By formulating and publishing the guidelines for iron fortification of cereal food staples as an interim tool to help program planners elect optimal iron fortificants for public health initiatives.

  • By sponsoring research on the bioavailability of each of the elemental iron powders in use today.

  • By sharing industry expertise to help advance fortification in many regions of the world, including Central America, Brazil, Russia, Africa and Bangladesh.

  • By exploring the potential for innovative ingredient technologies to enhance iron absorption.

  • By working collaboratively with U.S. AID and USDA to enhance the nutritive quality of international food aid commodities.