Two billion people across the world suffer from hidden hunger, a chronic lack of essential vitamins and minerals, according to Reuters. In developing countries, multiple deficiencies often occur simultaneously, sickening people, straining healthcare systems and hobbling economies. Iron deficiency anemia, zinc and vitamin A deficiencies rank among the 15 leading causes of disease, costing $180 billion each year. A new study in the British journal Lancet suggests that vitamin and mineral intervention programs, together with other interventions, have the ability to save nearly a million lives each year.
Half of the 10 interventions the story outlined were micronutrient interventions. Since iron and calcium deficiencies contribute substantially to maternal deaths, the series called for maternal multiple micronutrient supplementation and calcium supplementation as key interventions that can save 102,000 lives per year as part of a package of interventions during pregnancy, which also includes universal salt iodization. Another 145,000 lives could be saved through vitamin A and zinc supplementation for children.
Members of DSM's humanitarian initiative Sight and Life, developed Hidden Hunger Index maps, where highlight global hidden hunger hot spots and provide a ranked index of affected countries. The maps show the combined prevalence in preschool children of multiple micronutrient deficiencies: vitamin A, zinc and iron, as well as iodine. The hidden hunger maps and indices are part of Vitamins in Motion, a Sight and Life effort to highlight the critical role vitamins play in overall nutrition and health and advocate for increased access to micronutrients.
The index found that hidden hunger hot spots exist in sub-Saharan Africa, India and Afghanistan and are severe in many countries in South-Central/South-East Asia. Most South American countries only have a mild-to-moderate degree of hidden hunger. In most of the 20 countries with the highest Hidden Hunger Index scores, 40 percent of preschool children were estimated to be stunted, more than 30 percent were anemic due to iron deficiency and more than half were vitamin A deficient. Recent research links low levels of vitamin D to a markedly higher risk of heart attack and early death.