Food for Thought
Severe mineral and vitamin shortages are the cause of a worldwide decrease in brainpower, says a report issued this past spring by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Micronutrient Initiative. To fix the problem, UNICEF is urging that foods for people in developing countries—even in places where food supplies are adequate—be fortified with nutrients such as soy and iron. The report says that as many as a third of the world’s people will not meet their intellectual potential unless nutritional deficiencies are prevented.
“Everyone who cares about the future of children and the development of nations should heed this report,” says UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy. “The overwhelming scope of the problem makes it clear that we must reach out to whole populations and protect them from the devastating consequences of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.”
The report’s authors examined 80 developing nations and made these observations:
- Iodine deficiencies impair intellectual development in young children and are the cause of declining national IQs. Lack of iodine is also to blame for mental impairments in up to 20 million babies each year.
- Vitamin A deficiency compromises the immune systems of about 40% of children under age 5, leading to the deaths of 1 million kids each year.
- Lack of folic acid causes approximately 200,000 severe birth defects every year in developing nations.
- Iron deficiency in adults results in lower work productivity rates in some countries.
The report recommends that the following steps be taken to put an end to nutrient deficiencies:
- food fortification, in which essential vitamins and minerals are added to commonly consumed foods
- vitamin and mineral supplementation for children and women of childbearing age
- public education about the health and mental benefits of vitamins and minerals
- control of diseases such as malaria and measles, which can inhibit vitamin and mineral absorption
The report also calls for the food industry to develop, market and distribute low-cost fortified food products and supplements for developing nations and urges governments worldwide to support related legislation, standards and education. To obtain a full copy of the report, called Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A Global Assessment, contact www.unicef.org.