27 June 2013

New Index Calls Attention to Hidden Hunger

There is a hidden form of hunger that receives less attention that it deserves, say some advocates. While the world malnutrition will evoke thoughts of hunger and lack of food, meeting the caloric needs of a person is not enough to ensure adequate health.

Micronutrients are the minerals and vitamins that are in food. Zinc, iron and vitamin A are among the crucial micronutrients that ensure the health and proper development of children. A lack of micronutrients can cause slowed physical growth (stunting) and weaken immune systems to the point of endangering a child’s life.

Hidden hunger accounts for 7% of the global disease burden and comes with a global cost of $180 billion each year. The issue of micronutrient deficiency captures less attention than hunger. That is due in part to a lack of adequate data to display the problem to political leaders. Enter the Hidden Hunger Index.

Researchers collected data on micronutrient deficiencies in young children to map areas where the problem is concentrated. ’Hidden hunger hot spots’ were found in India, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa.

Results from the research were published in a paper for the medical journal PLoS ONE. The concentration of hidden hunger is staggering. The 36 countries that account for 90% of the world’s stunting are home to high rates of micronutrient deficiencies that account for a significant portion of health problems, disability and early deaths.

The aim of the index is to provide information for countries and donors that will allow them to focus on the hot spot areas, explained Klaus Kraemer, Ph.D., director of Sight and Life and co-author of the paper to Humanosphere.

“We need leaders and champions to move forward,” said Kraemer. “This index can be used to blame and shame governments that are not doing anything.”

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