Often referred to as “hidden hunger,” micronutrient malnutrition is a serious public health problem affecting over two billion people worldwide.
What Food Fortification Is
Food fortification is the practice of adding essential vitamins and minerals (e.g. iron, vitamin A, folic acid, iodine) to staple foods to improve their nutritional content. Fortification is a safe, effective way to improve public health that has been used around the world since the 1920s. Commonly fortified foods include staple products such as salt, maize flour, wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil, and rice.
Why It Matters
Many diets, especially those of the poor, contain insufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals due to lack of variation and / or consumption of predominantly processed foods. Adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in the diet, also called micronutrients since they are only needed in small amounts, are critical to an individual’s health and development.
Since most populations in resource-poor settings do not have access to adequate quantities of fruits, vegetables, and meats where micronutrients are abundant, and because providing vitamin tablets poses logistical and economic constraints, food fortification is a practical and inexpensive alternative.
What it Costs
The Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every $1 spent on fortification results in $9 in benefits to the economy. An initial investment is required to purchase both the equipment and the vitamin and mineral premix, but overall the costs of fortification are extremely low. Even when all program costs are passed onto consumers, the price increase is roughly 1 – 2%, less than normal price variation.
One of Multiple Strategies
Fortification offers one of the most cost-effective and sustainable approaches to addressing micronutrient malnutrition. To make sure all individuals receive appropriate amounts of micronutrients, however, it is best implemented together with other strategies, including supplementation, dietary diversification, education, biofortification, and other public health measures.