BASEL, Switzerland – Hidden hunger is the term used to describe a chronic lack of necessary vitamins and minerals in a person’s diet. These micronutrients are vital for long term physical and mental development. Despite their ability to permanently and negatively affect essential development, the absence of these micronutrients is virtually undetectable by looking at person- hence the term ‘hidden hunger.’ The humanitarian nutrition think tank, Sight and Life, recently published the results of a study on global hidden hunger. For the first time, the research identified global hot spots and defined which specific micronutrients were most lacking in diets around the world.
Micronutrient deficiencies are a serious public health issue that affects over two billion people worldwide. The regions with the greatest occurrence of hidden hunger were sub-Saharan Africa, India, Afghanistan, South central and Southeast Asia. The Global Hidden Hunger Indices and Maps study was created to help make micronutrient program assistance a priority among nations.
Two indices and maps were created as the result of the study. One showed the rates of stunting, anemia, and low serum retinol levels among preschool aged children in 149 countries. The second tracked Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) attributed to micronutrient deficiencies across 136 nations.
The research showed that hidden hunger makes up 7% of the global disease burden. Iron deficiency related anemia, zinc, and vitamin A deficiencies were among the 15 leading causes of that same disease burden. The cost associated with the care of those affected is estimated at $180 billion a year.
Children and women of reproductive age were listed as the most susceptible to these micronutrient deficiencies. 36 countries produced 90% of the world’s stunted children. Vitamin A and zinc deficiencies in these children resulted in up to 12% of life years lost due to ill health, disability, and early death. The study showed that preschool aged children living in the 20 countries with the highest rates of hidden hunger were more than 40% zinc deficient resulting in stunted growth, 30% anemic due to iron deficiencies and more than half were vitamin A deficient.
Interestingly, the highest occurrence of children with iodine deficiencies occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and European regions with 46.6% and 44.2% respectively. African regions closely followed with 40.4% iodine deficiencies.
For the most part, however, the countries with the lowest Hidden Hunger Index scores also ranked highest on the Human Development Index list. This relationship proves that in order to achieve adequate societal development, the problem of micronutrient deficiencies must be addressed. The Hidden Hunger Index can serve as a useful advocacy tool in policy making decisions. The conductors of the study hope that the results will spur nutrition interventions through food fortification and multiple micronutrient supplementations.
The Global Hidden Hunger Indices and Maps study was developed by Sight and Life with input from United Nations agencies, U.S. government agencies, universities and international NGOs. Sight and Life was founded in 1986 as a non-profit humanitarian initiative focusing on addressing micronutrient deficiencies. Their goals include growing the evidence base for micronutrients, advocating for better nutrition around the world, sharing knowledge for improving nutrition, and promoting partnerships for resolving hidden hunger.
– Allana Welch
Source: All Africa, PLOS One, Sight and Life, Vitamins in Motion