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Nutrient Fortification to Address Hidden Hunger

Posted:  Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Could market-driven fortification address hidden hunger?

In a plenary symposium at the third World Congress of Public Health Nutrition, leading academic and industry nutrition scientists discussed how a joint effort between the scientific community and the food industry could improve the effectiveness of global efforts to address hidden hunger via micronutrient fortification.

Here is a summary of the topics presented:

Effective nutritional strategies and the role of multiple stakeholders

Over the last 200 years, malnutrition in Europe has become a thing of the past thanks to improved living conditions and purchasing power, and the production of foods with much improved nutrient profiles. These same changes are currently helping eradicate nutrient deficiencies in rapidly developing countries.

In his presentation, Andrew Prentice from the MRC International Nutrition Group and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine highlighted that the majority of the world’s food producers are not only ready to engage with academics to design a more healthy and environmentally sustainable food chain, but are actually leading such efforts.

He concluded that a healthy and mutually-respectful partnership between academic nutritionists and motivated members of the food supply chain will bring far greater progress than any tensions between these two groups. “Each side has a vital role to play and coordinated efforts could bring important and rapid dividends.”

Read more about multi-stakeholder strategies for micronutrient deficiencies

Efficient nutritional programs at national level: challenges and opportunities - the developing world strategies focusing on micronutrient deficiencies

Patrick Detzel from the Nestlé Research Centre’s Department of Public Health Nutrition started his session by pointing out that micronutrient deficiency, which affects some 2 billion people, is often ignored or overshadowed by the issues of energy deficits and protein deficiency. Yet this ‘hidden hunger’ can have a long-term and irreversible impact on health, as well as a country’s economy.

He went on to look at how food-based approaches could help, such as dietary diversification, the fortification of commercial food, or biofortification. While each approach requires long-term sustained and coordinated efforts to make a lasting difference, in the short-term, vitamin and mineral supplements can help vulnerable populations.

In tackling hidden hunger, private-public partnerships are key,since they have the full range of capabilities and resources needed to help address this issue

Read more about public health strategies for micronutrient deficiencies

Health economic evaluation of market driven fortification programs: the Philippines example

Simon Wieser from the Winterthur Institute of Health Economics and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences shared the results of a health-economics exercise to determine the cost-effectiveness of price-based powdered-milk interventions in reducing micronutrient deficiencies in 6-23 month-old Filipino children.

By mapping the consequences of childhood micronutrient deficiencies over an individual’s lifetime, it became apparent that these have a considerable economic burden on society.

However, the research, based on a survey of 1800 households, concluded that a price discount of 20% on powdered-milk for the poorest 20% of the population could be a cost-effective way to address the micronutrient deficiency of those most in need in the Philippines.

Read more about the Philippines Health Economics Example