dietary supplements
It is no surprise that a world of nearly seven billion people produces imbalances. One of the planet’s many documented inequalities concerns the fight against malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition affects nearly two billion people. Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger.” While those suffering from malnutrition may receive enough food, they do not obtain enough micronutrients and minerals.

The German NGO Welthungerhilfe and child aid network Terre des Hommes published a report in July 2014 addressing the potential for fortified food to combat this problem. The report highlights the ongoing debate among the private sector, the government and the food industry as to whether food fortification is a mere “techno-fix” or a potential solution in the fight against hidden hunger.

According to the report, it is possible, albeit challenging, to provide populations with enhanced or fortified foods.

“Mass fortification is the preferred approach when a majority of the population is at risk of a particular nutrient deficiency, whereas targeted fortification is designed for defined population subgroups,” states the report.

Yet a sustained reliance upon enhanced foodstuffs could result in natural nutritional practices becoming obsolete. For example, breastfeeding allows infants to receive a host of nutrients via a mother’s breast milk. Health experts have warned that forgoing such practices for nonstandard approaches could prove costly.

Welthungerhilfe secretary general Wolfgang Jamann noted that parts of Africa place a rather significant reliance upon corn porridge. While those who consume the product may not necessarily be starving, such a diet restricts them from the necessary vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy life. In Asian countries, where rice is a popular food, a lack of Vitamin A can lead to numerous health issues.

Though such dietary supplements may provide a possible antidote to the nutritional issue affecting impoverished people worldwide, it is likely not a long term solution. Health experts continue to believe a balanced diet holds the key to remedying the issue of hidden hunger.

The authors of the report noted that fortification programs should “be implemented together with poverty reduction initiatives and other agricultural, health, education and social intervention strategies that promote the consumption and utilization of adequate quantities of nutritious foods. Otherwise, they risk ending up as a short-term technical fix to the multi-faceted problem of hidden hunger.”

Though obtaining such a diet may prove difficult for many, it is most likely a more sustainable, safer and healthier option.

Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Micronutrient Initiative, Welthungerhilfe
Photo: JHSPH Open