Food fortification: An effective and safe way to fight micronutrient malnutrition and its consequences

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect around 2 billion people worldwide and have been identified as a global health issue in many low- and middle-income countries. Micronutrients (often referred to as vitamins and minerals) are essential for the body to function. Deficiency of micronutrients can be linked to anemia, adverse birth outcomes, night blindness, increased risk of mortality in children and pregnant women, increased risk of osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children, reduced resistance to infectious diseases, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function [1].

These outcomes have far-reaching social and economic consequences, not only placing a massive burden on individuals and families, but also increasing pressure on core public services such as health, social care and education. Studies show that micronutrient deficiencies can contribute to a loss of up to 5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [2]. For example, iron deficiency can contribute to a loss of up to 2% GDP in the worst affected countries [3]. Therefore, addressing micronutrient deficiencies on a large scale represents a proven opportunity to build healthy societies and sustainably boost local economies.

The ideal solution to addressing micronutrient gaps is improving diets through dietary diversification. Yet, the high level of resources, the availability and the accessibility required to ensure diets are varied enough to meet the micronutrient needs, often prevent reaching this goal through this approach alone. In this situation, food fortification, micronutrient supplements and biofortification are widely recognized as highly effective and affordable complementary strategies [4]. Well-implemented food fortification programmes significantly impact the health and productivity of target groups for a comparatively low cost. Food fortification with micronutrients has been ranked among the top three strategies in terms of economic return on investment due to its high cost-benefit ratio, according to analysis carried out by a panel of global economic experts for the Copenhagen Consensus Center [5]. The well-respected think tank noted its “tremendously high benefits compared to costs.”

By successfully addressing micronutrient deficiencies on a large scale with relatively limited budget, food fortification can help countries reach their nutrition goals, improve the nutritional and health status of populations, enable them to achieve their potential and support economic prosperity on a national level. In addition, fortified foods can support households in meeting nutrition needs by improving affordability of a nutritious diet [6].

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