Better food fortification initiatives are required to tackle the global problem of hidden hunger that accounts for 10% of health costs, a Nestlé-sponsored congress heard in Germany today.
Nutrition researchers called on greater micronutrient programmes to tackle iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc and vitamin B12 other nutrient deficiencies with greater milk and baked good fortification seen as attractive matrixes.
Nestlé Nutrition Institute commissioned a study in which researchers from the Winterthur Institute of Health Economics in Switzerland looked at the cost of micronutrient deficiencies and potential impacts of certain fortified foods.
The lead investigator of the study, Simon Weiser, said: “We found that iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies lead to substantial cost. Milk and cereal products fortified with iron, and a combination of other micronutrients can be an effective strategy to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anemia in children, to 57% less than non-fortified foods.”
“Multiple fortification has more pronounced effect on hemoglobin levels than iron single-fortification.”
Supplements versus functional foods
Also speaking at the event at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, was professor Zulfiqar Bhutta from the Aga Khan University Hospital in Pakistan, who had been involved in a systematic review comparing the merits of functional foods and food supplements.
“Very few studies compared supplementation and fortification head to head, and our findings suggest that in some cases iron fortification can be a more effective strategy in certain settings for reducing anemia among school aged children.”
Professor Lindsay Allen, director of the USDA ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, in California, added to the case by saying: “Those include industry technology and distribution; packaging that protects the nutrients and reduces organoleptic deterioration; they can contain nutrients difficult to supply through mass fortification, and many need little or no preparation and can be popular especially with children.”
Battling global malnutrition
There are many bodies and initiatives that are addressing the problem of global malnutrition including Vitamin Angels, Sight and Life, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN).
“Deploying appropriate multi-sectoral strategies to address micronutrient deficiencies can reduce child and maternal mortality and prevent birth defects and developmental disabilities and consequently improve productivity and economic growth of nations and lift people out of poverty,” said professor Ferdinand Haschke, chairman of the Nestlé Nutrition Institute.
Nestlé said it provides, "160bn servings of products fortified with micronutrients each year."
"We are fortifiying foods under the general guidelines - World Health Organization and Codex - for fortification, and according to our own policy on Fortification of Food Products with Vitamins, Minerals and Trace Elements," a spokesperson told us.
"This takes account of consumer needs for specific micronutrients, identifying relevant food products and fortifying them at nutritionally-relevant levels. This also means looking at nutrition data country by country. For example, Nestlé is contributing foods under the Philippines Department of Health’s Sangkap Pinoy Seal (SPS) food fortification Programme."