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Maps reveal 'hidden hunger' that stifles development
  • Maps reveal 'hidden hunger' that stifles development

Copyright: Flickr/Oxfam International

Speed read

  • The study maps iron, zinc and vitamin deficiencies in children in 149 countries

  • Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly badly affected

  • Researchers also estimated years lost to poor nutrition, a measure of economic impact


The burden of this hidden hunger, defined as lack of iron, zinc and vitamin A and other nutrients, accounts for more than a tenth of lost productivity due to illness, disability or early death in the worst-affected countries, according to the paper, written as an advocacy tool and published in PLOS ONE earlier this month (12 June).

All of the 20 countries with the highest levels of hidden hunger are in Sub-Saharan Africa, apart from India and Afghanistan, the authors note.

There is also a strong link between rising incidence of hidden hunger and decreasing levels of development. This relationship underscores the importance of micronutrients for improving health and education, while reducing In a second part of the study, the researchers estimate the impact of hidden hunger on populations in 136 countries according to disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) the metric used by the WHO to measure the burden of disease by years lost to illness, disability or early death.

Sierra Leone, the worst affected country, has 5,870 DALYs for every 100,000 people, while 12.3 per cent of Cote DIvoires DALYs are attributed to deficiencies of iron, zinc and vitamin A.

Not all countries are taking micronutrient deficiency seriously enough, says Klaus Kraemer, co-author of the paper and director of Sight and Life, a nutrition think tank. We need to hold policymakers accountable to do something about this terrible situation that keeps millions in poverty.

The results of the study, says Kraemer, highlight that focusing mainly on providing calories to address hunger in a population as encouraged by the Millennium Development Goals misses the bigger picture.

Venkatesh Mannar, president of the Micronutrient Initiative, agrees on the need for better data but welcomes the effort to provide policymakers with clear, visual information on an issue that many still do not think is important.

Monika Blssner, a technical officer at the WHOs Department of Nutrition for Health for Development (NHD), says that while global maps are an excellent advocacy tool for raising awareness, they only represent averages.

Ultimately, if real gains are to be made in fighting micronutrient deficiencies, local data must be made much more accessible, she says. The way forward is to disaggregate the data we have further down to different administrative levels so people can focus on specific areas.

Link to full paper in PLOS ONE

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