Hidden hunger, micronutrient deficiency i.e. lack of vitamin and mineral, plagues over 2 billion people, almost afflicting one out of three individuals worldwide. This form of malnutrition arises when consumption and absorption of various vitamins and minerals like iodine, zinc or iron, is much lower than that is essential for growth and overall health.

What are Micronutrients and Micronutrient deficiencies?

Before proceeding further let’s understand what exactly these micronutrients are. These are a class of nutrients that are needed by our body in trace amount to continue normal bodily functions, overall health and development. Often, micronutrient deficiency is addressed as ‘Hidden Hunger’ as such a deficiency builds up slowly with time, and their disastrous effects are not noticed until a heap of irreversible damage to the body is accrued. Children in millions suffers worldwide from cognitive delays, stunted growth, weak immunity and inclination to infections due to these micronutrient deficiencies. After 6 months of age, a child’s nutritional needs increases and mother’s milk is not sufficient alone. Thus, during this period the child is susceptible to nutritional deficiency if diet is not taken care of.

Also read: Micronutrient deficiency: A macro problem

Micronutrient Deficiency and its Global Impact

Micronutrient deficiency is the commonest and most prevalent nutritional condition and adds greatly to the worldwide burden of ailment by afflicting one-third of population. Though this deficiency is more prevalent in developing countries, it makes for a significant incidence in develop countries as well. The global statistics is shocking affecting 30% of the global population, over 2 billion worldwide hits, with even severe proportion among children population.

Out of 5000 daily infantile deaths in India, over half of them are related to nutritional deficiencies like Vitamin A, iodine, iron, folic acid and zinc.

Impact of Micronutrient Deficiency over Health and Its Prevention

Micronutrient deficiency in infants hinders brain growth and diminishes their immunity. Thus, it becomes essential to maintain a proper nutrition to the baby while taking care of micronutrients as well. Replacing regular food with fortified foods is a great way to avoid such nutritional deficiencies. As the name suggests, these foods are fortified with all the essential micronutrients, thus, countering the hazards of micronutrient deficiency.

As per the reports by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau of India more than half of seemingly healthy children suffers from sub-clinical micro-nutritional deficiencies. It’s imperative to nourish children with a wide range of foods containing required amounts of micro-nutrients if we want to fight hidden hunger.

Body weight index isn’t an accurate measure to check nutritional status in children. As when child receives adequate calories, the apparent growth might seem normal, but bodily functions due to micronutrient deficiency may not be normal. Furthermore, malnutrition might develop slowly over time, thus, symptoms may not appear at the beginning.

What makes things worse is that parents in India lay more emphasis on physical growth rather than immunity and brain development. A typical Indian diet provides macronutrients but is deficient in micronutrients. As a result, a child with normal weight and height may also be suffering from nutritional deficiency which goes unnoticed by the parents. Even smaller margins between the nutrition required by the children, and substandard nutrition provided piles on and leads to nutritional deficiencies even at a young age.

Eating patterns that are instigated in a child become the foundation for life. Roughly 1/3 of deaths in children per annum globally, directly or indirectly, are related to malnutrition, particularly undernutrition that weakens the body’s defences against various diseases. A child malnourished for first 2-3 years of life is bound to suffer from its consequences, showing up as gross slow physical growth and mental retardation. We must note that, such changes cannot be amended once the age has passed on and child has grown. The changes are permanent and would torment the child for life.

Thus, various institutions and organisations have laid emphasis on tackling micronutrient deficiency time and again. WHO as well has registered the need of fortification of food items to lower the incidence of nutritional deficiencies across the globe.