Urgent action needed to counter nutrition deficiencies in developing world - UN

24 March 2004

Up to a third of the world's people do not meet their physical and intellectual potential because of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and without urgent action to fortify and supplement foods children in developing nations will remain at risk of underachieving, according to a new United Nations report released today.

Up to a third of the world's people do not meet their physical and intellectual potential because of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and without urgent action to fortify and supplement foods children in developing nations will remain at risk of underachieving, according to a new United Nations report released today.

"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 deficiency," UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said of the report jointly published by her agency and The Micronutrient Initiative, a not-for-profit organization based in Ottawa, Canada.

Unless action against vitamin and mineral deficiencies moves to a new level, the UN will not achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of eradicating extreme poverty, improving maternal health and reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015, the report concludes.

The severe effects of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as anaemia, cretinism and blindness, have long been known, but the report sheds new light on other problems caused by less extreme deficiencies, such as a lack of iron which impairs intellectual development in young children and lowers national IQs.

Other problems include vitamin A deficiency, compromising the immune systems of approximately 40 per cent of children under five in the developing world and leading to the deaths of 1 million youngsters each year, and iodine deficiency in pregnancy, which causes as many as 20 million babies a year to be born mentally impaired.

The report calls for the food industry to develop, market and distribute low-cost fortified food products and supplements, and for governments to control vitamin and mineral deficiency through education and legislation.

Methods that have worked in industrialized nations are now so inexpensive and available that they could control vitamin and mineral deficiencies worldwide, Ms. Bellamy said. These include adding essential vitamins and minerals to regularly consumed foods and providing children and women of childbearing age with vitamin and mineral supplements.

“With nearly a third of the planet affected in some way by a problem for which a clear solution exists, anything less than rapid progress is unconscionable," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam said in launching the report in New York.

 

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