Anaemic adults and children cost developing countries billions of dollars in lost productivity, according to a recent study.
"One in three of the world's population suffers from anaemia so this has tremendous economic consequences," said Sue Horton, a University of Toronto economics professor and lead author of the study, 'The Economics of Iron Deficiency'.
The economic loss due to iron deficiency in South Asia alone is staggering: close to $4.2 billion is lost annually in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Adults who lack sufficient iron in their diets are more lethargic which leads to lower productivity, while the motor and cognitive development of small children is also impaired.
Horton and co-author Jay Ross, an epidemiologist from the non-profit organisation Academy for Educational Development, calculated the economic impact of iron deficiencies in 10 developing countries in South Asia, Central America, Africa and the Middle East. They found that, on average, a country loses 0.6 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to physical productivity losses from adults lacking iron. When learning and motor impairments in anaemic children are added, the figure rises dramatically to 4 per cent of its GDP.
"A loss of 4 per cent of GDP even in poor countries translates into billions of dollars lost," said Horton.
Horton says iron fortification is extremely important and inexpensive. For example, it costs only 12 cents (US) per person per year to fortify wheat flour in Venezuela - and the payback is tremendous for a country's economy.
"With every dollar you invest, you receive $36 back in physical and cognitive productivity. Those are huge returns," he said.
The study, funded by Micronutrient Initiative, was published online in the February issue of the journal Food Policy.