Press Releases

    Using Fortification to Combat the Hidden Hunger Epidemic

    It is estimated that two billion people globally are living with hidden hunger, a phenomenon caused by a lack of essential micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, in a person’s diet, which can have devastating long term consequences. While the incidence of hidden hunger is traditionally associated with developing countries, whose residents are faced with restricted access to sufficient dietary nutrition, it is also becoming increasingly prevalent in more westernized, developed nations. Calorie-rich diets no longer guarantee adequate nutrient intake. The result of this is that, even though physical hunger needs are being met, more people than ever before are both overweight and malnourished at the same time.

    An individual’s nutritional status can play an important role in their livelihood and wellbeing, affecting the communities they live in, and can even have a significant impact on their country’s economic development due to factors such as long working days and rising healthcare costs. Regions worldwide continue to be plagued by poor nutrition, placing a heavy burden on societies.  

    What are the risks?
    Micronutrient deficiencies are linked to a range of health concerns, and may also lead to an increase in the risk of chronic disease and malnutrition. Shortfalls of nutrients such as vitamin A and folic acid can result in serious birth defects and suboptimal mental and physical development. Inadequate intake of vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’, and omega-3s such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) could also contribute to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In light of this, governments, academic bodies, organizations and food producers have been searching for a long-term solution to achieving universal access to adequate food and nutrition, which has proven no easy feat. One of the safest and most cost-effective measures, however, is staple food fortification.  

    Safe, affordable & effective
    The fortification of staple foods, such as wheat, maize and rice, has been applied for decades and is increasingly recognized as a safe, affordable and effective tool to add nutritional value to these foods worldwide. This process also enables the replacement of essential nutrients that may have been lost during processing and has, in many countries, become a mandatory step. The Middle East has proven a key player in this movement; in 1978, Saudi Arabia became one of the first countries in the region to require wheat flour fortification and, in 1996, Oman was the first in the world to achieve national-scale flour fortification with folic acid.  Fortification requirements were rolled out to several more countries in the area, including Iran and Jordan, in the years that followed. Flour – wheat flour, in particular – is one of the most commonly consumed grains in the Middle East region, and is a key element of the human diet almost everywhere in the world. Maize (corn) is also an important staple crop in many countries across the globe. Both wheat and maize flour products have been found to have excellent fortification capabilities with almost all micronutrients, and this has majorly impacted the status of global public health, particularly in the Middle East. For example, after a 2002 survey revealed that low micronutrient intake was a major health concern in Jordan, the country rolled out a wheat flour fortification program to address these deficiencies. A follow up survey in 2010 revealed that the implementation of the initiative had been a huge success, with wheat flour products now routinely fortified with a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. 

    Protection from processing
    Aside from flour, rice is also a major staple food worldwide; it is, for instance, often provided to migrant workers for their daily meals in many countries. However, most of the micronutrients present in rice kernels are lost during milling, meaning that it is not a rich source of good nutrition. This means that, while hunger may have subsided, people who consume a large proportion of rice in their diet are not getting access to the required nutrients. This often leads to hidden hunger in these individuals. Fortification of rice products is an effective method of enhancing nutritional status and health and is increasingly on the radar of governments for implementation as a major public health measure. New technologies are enabling essential micronutrients to be embedded into a rice kernel, meaning that they are protected from external influences during the processing, such as washing and cooking. In addition, these kernels look, taste and behave like ordinary rice, meaning that there is no need to modify dietary habits. 

    A solution for the future
    Advances in science and technology have created more opportunities than ever before for food producers to add nutritional value to their products and support the improvement of public health worldwide. The Middle East, in particular, has recognized the value of this practice and continues to see the benefits as mandatory fortification is rolled out in more countries. This provides ample opportunity for producers in this region, but also in markets worldwide, to give staple food products a competitive advantage and bring long-term health benefits to communities the world over. 

    Sarah Louis
    Marketing Manager Nutrition Improvement Program
    DSM Nutritional Products
    Web: www.