15 Nov Micronutrient deficiencies more widespread than previously thought
For many years, researchers have stated that an estimated 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, or “hidden hunger”. New research published in The Lancet Global Health (and summarised in a useful advocacy brief) provides sobering evidence that the true number is far higher, even if only considering pre-school children and women of reproductive age.
Micronutrient deficiencies – an insufficient level of one or more micronutrients in the body, often caused by deficient intakes – have serious negative consequences for health. Iron, zinc, and Vitamin A deficiencies are often talked about given their widespread occurrence and clear role in anaemia and vision problems. Micronutrient deficiencies are of particular concern where they occur in children or women of reproductive age, due to the lasting damage that can be caused to foetal, infant, and maternal health.
This research synthesised data from multiple studies from around the world that had measured micronutrient biomarkers, rather than just micronutrient intakes.
The research indicated that over half of pre-school children and over two thirds of women of reproductive age were deficient in at least one micronutrient. This number is terrifyingly high, and yet still likely an underestimate: the available data only allowed for analysis of iron, zinc, folate (Vitamin B9) and Vitamin A.
Unsurprisingly, the numbers were higher in developing regions – as much as 9 in 10 women in certain countries of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Even in high income countries the numbers were poor: half of women in the UK and a third of women in the US showing some deficiency.
The authors recommend interventions to reduce the prevalence of deficiency, including improving the affordability of micronutrient-dense foods such as animal-sourced foods, dark green leafy vegetables, and pulses. There is also a need for food fortification, biofortification, and supplementation for target populations at key life stages.
SNi® research has also found that micronutrients, rather than macronutrients, are most often the limiting factor for population nutrition, and must be the target for future change to the food system.