Wake-up call
Experts sound the alarm over micronutrient deficiencies
Nutrition deficit
Researchers recently uncovered evidence of the true extent of global malnutrition.
They found that more than half of pre-school children and over two thirds of non-pregnant women of reproductive age worldwide have a micronutrient deficiency.
1 in 2 Pre-school aged children
2 in 3 women of reproductive age
Sense of urgency
Their alarming conclusion was reached following an analysis of global data, which was published in academic journal The Lancet. 1
The study was led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Micronutrient Forum (MNF).
Following publication, GAIN and MNF said there was now an "urgent" need for action 2
Human cost
The authors of The Lancet article warn of serious consequences as a result of micronutrient deficiencies.
These include:
Compromised immune systems
Constrained physical and cognitive development in children
Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
Reduced educational outcomes
Limitations on human potential
Missing out
Their study assessed the prevalence of deficiency in three micronutrients:
  • Iron, zinc and vitamin A in preschool-age children
  • Iron, zinc, and folate in non-pregnant women of reproductive age
The burden of deficiency in at least one micronutrient was 56% for children and 69% for women.
These micronutrients were selected for the analysis because deficiency in them can cause severe morbidity or death, and prevalence of deficiency is known to be high in many countries.
However, deficiencies in other micronutrients may also exist.
Hidden figures
The researchers focused on preschool-age children and women of reproductive age for their analysis because there is enough global data for these population groups.
Insufficient data currently exists for other groups, including school-aged children, adolescent boys, men, pregnant women, and older adults.
According to GAIN and MNF, this means the widely held belief that there are 2 billion people globally suffering with micronutrient deficiency is likely to be a “major underestimate”.
Worst hit areas
The researchers found malnutrition to be most prevalent in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
In several countries in these regions, as many as 90% of women have at least one micronutrient deficiency.
But if you think malnutrition is a problem exclusive to the developing world, then think again.
No escape
Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread in high-income countries, too.
Malnutrition is a global issue.
Prevalence of deficiencies in one or more of three core micronutrients, world and different regions (2003-2019)
Source: New Global Estimates for Hidden Hunger, Advocacy Brief, GAIN & MNF October 2022
The case for intervention
In their analysis of the findings, GAIN and MNF identify three measures to address widespread micronutrient deficiencies:
Fortification of popular foods with essential vitamins and minerals
Biofortification of staple crops to increase micronutrient content
Supplementation targeting pregnant women and young children
Next steps
Adequate nutrition is essential from a humanitarian perspective. It also helps to create the right environment for communities to thrive and prosper.
The data from The Lancet paper is shocking.
It is up to all of us to find ways to address this hidden hunger, including better integration of supplement programmes into nutrition and health policy.