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The role of government in tackling micronutrient deficiency conditions in Southeast Asia

Posted:  Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The role of national, international and private sectors in tackling the pandemic of micronutrient deficiency conditions in Southeast Asia

A commentary by Tulchinsky published in the Nutrients journal explores the issue of population nutritional security in Southeast Asia.

Micronutrient deficiency conditions of nutritional insecurity exist in both developing and developed countries, affecting people of all genders and ages. Prevention of micronutrient deficiency can be achieved by vitamin and mineral supplementation for people at special risk, whereas community health needs can be achieved through population-based approaches that involve fortification of basic foods. In addition, nutrition policies addressing societal determinants of under-nutrition, such as poverty alleviation, agricultural reforms, gender equality, and health systems policies, are equally important.

For about a century, fortification has proved to be successful, safe and effective in the prevention of specific diseases and birth defects. The World Health Organization Guidelines for Fortification of Basic Foods in medium- and low-income countries recommend fortification of basic processed foods such as salt with iodine; flour with folic acid, iron and vitamin B-complex; and sugar with vitamin A and zinc. In December 2014, 82 countries mandated fortification of food products, of which 81 countries including Punjab province in Pakistan legislated fortification of wheat flour, 12 countries legislated fortification of maize products and 6 countries legislated fortification of rice.

Micronutrient deficiency conditions are a serious concern in Southeast Asia. To promote strong and effective national nutrition policies, especially for at-risk groups such as women and children, public health professionals and policymakers in national, state and local government and also international food and health agencies must take responsibility. Cooperation and participation from national, international, as well as the private sector are imperative. However, government must ensure that the essential nutrients are within safety levels and reach the entire population. Fortification, supplementation and monitoring are the three main requisites for addressing the public health issue of micronutrient deficiency.

News source - Tulchinsky TH. The key role of government in addressing the pandemic of micronutrient deficiency conditions in Southeast Asia. Nutrients. 2015 Apr 8;7(4):2518-2523.