What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals required in small amounts that are essential to our health, development, and growth.
Where Do They Come From?
Micronutrients are found naturally in a variety of plant- and animal-based foods. Although they can now be synthesized in the laboratory, a varied diet typically provides all of the vitamins and minerals necessary for human health. In many settings, however, such foods are not available and provide a major threat to the health and development of populations around the globe. These are also the places where micronutrient deficiencies cause the greatest harm.
Why Are They Important?
Proper intake of vitamins and minerals can mean the difference between a healthy, productive life, and a life fraught with illness. Micronutrient deficiencies, which affect over two billion people around the globe today, are the leading cause of mental retardation, preventable blindness, and death during childbirth. They are responsible for neural tube defects – the second most prevalent class of birth defects in the world – and play a significant role in reducing the most common form of birth defects (cardiac). A person’s chances of dying from measles or diarrhea are between 30 – 50%. This number can be significantly lowered with proper micronutrient health.
A lack of these important vitamins and minerals also has a profound impact on the body’s immune system. Immune systems weakened by a lack of micronutrients puts children at increased risk of illness, making them more likely to miss school. Diminished mental capacity and increased absenteeism (due to iodine and iron deficiency) lead to lower academic achievement, with lifelong consequences. Adults are more likely to miss work either due to their own illness, or to care for sick children. Both add to the load of already overburdened healthcare systems.
Even those who are not sick suffer diminished ability concentrate and reduced physical and mental productivity, preventing them from reaching their full potential and increasing the likelihood of further disease and disability. What emerges is a grim cycle compounded by insufficient healthcare and education, poor sanitation, and disease. A mother who is lacking key nutrients not only increases her chances of dying during childbirth, but also risks not being able to provide her child with the proper nutrients needed to begin life.
Beyond the enormous health implications, micronutrient malnutrition has a significant economic impact. The Micronutrient Initiative and the World Bank estimate that the most affected countries may lose as much as 2 – 3 % of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year.
What is the Global Impact?
Micronutrients are nature’s wonder drug. And they are remarkably cheap when added to the existing food supply. A comprehensive food fortification program costs just a few cents per year but has a profound impact on blindness, birth defects, mental health, and child survival.
That’s why we focus our efforts on ensuring that every woman, man, and child around the globe has access to fortified food.
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