An estimated one-third of the world’s people suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, leading to a reduction in national IQs of up to 15 percentage points through iodine shortages in particular, a report released Tuesday said.
The report, released by the Canada-based Micronutrient Initiative and UNICEF, suggested that increased food fortification to flour and other staple products, similar to the global push to add iodine to salt, could help solve the problem.
Although a world-wide campaign to increase iodine supplies through salt additives has reduced iodine shortfalls from 30 per cent to 15 per cent, much remains to be done with iodine and other vitamins and minerals, the report said.
Researchers took a “vitamin census” of 80 developing countries and found that about 2 billion people fell short in their mental and physical development because of the shortages.
Those numbers included a total of 18 million children born mentally impaired due to iodine deficiencies. Worst hit countries in terms of pure numbers were India with 6.6 million, Pakistan with 2.1 million children, and Ethiopia and Bangladesh each with more than 600,000 children.
Iodine deficiency was “estimated to have lowered the intellectual capacity of almost all of the nations reviewed by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points”, the report said.
Deficiency in another mineral, iron, in the 6-to-24 month age group impaired the mental development of approximately 40 to 60 per cent of children in developing countries, the report said. Countries worst hit by more than 80 per cent iron deficiencies in children under five years old included Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia and Guinea-Bissau.
The report blamed losses in gross domestic product of up to 2.7 per cent in Mali, and more than 2 per cent in Burundi, Burkina Faso, Angola and Afghanistan on the nutrient shortfalls of iron, iodine and Vitamin A.
The report, entitled “Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency (VMD), a Global Progress Report,” also associated the death of 1 million young children each year on Vitamin A deficiency.
“Everyone who cares about the future of children and the development of nations should heed this report,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “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.”
Drawing on a positive track record of increasing the world’s iodine and Vitamin A intakes, the report encouraged even greater efforts in the future. More than 40 developing countries now reach at least two-thirds of their young children with at least one high dose of Vitamin A per year.
Folic acid, a form of Vitamin B that encourages healthy fetal nervous system development during pregnancy, is currently added to all wheat flour in the U.S. and Canada – a movement that is gathering momentum in Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria and South Africa. Forty-nine countries now have flour fortification laws.
Other staple foods and condiments such as sugar, margarine, cooking oil and soy sauce are now being targeted for fortification, the report said.
“The cost of fortification can be as little as a few cents per person per year,” the report said.
But at the current rate of progress, nutritional goals set in 2002 by the U.N. General Assembly “will not be achieved”, the report said.
The assembly called for the virtual elimination of iodine deficiency by 2005 and the elimination of vitamin A deficiency by 2010.
Copyright 2004 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH. Source: www.wtopnews.com.