Even in wealthy nations, malnutrition is a serious public health problem

Vitamin deficiencies and inadequacies not only harm health, they contribute to high healthcare costs, reduce productivity and stifle economic growth, writes Manfred Eggersdorfer.

Manfred Eggersdorfer is senior vice-president and Head for Nutritional Science Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products, one of the world's leading suppliers of vitamins and other ingredients to the feed, food, pharmaceutical and personal care industries.

Our next generation of World Cup players – as well as our next generation of entrepreneurs, teachers and engineers – is attending preschool today. Some will grow up to achieve their full potential. Some will not. One of the most important determinants of success is good nutrition, and even in wealthy nations, malnutrition is a serious economic and public health problem.

Malnutrition happens in wealthy countries in part because access to nutritious food depends on income. There are proven policies governments can embrace to eliminate nutrition inequities, improve health and increase prosperity. Food fortification is one such policy.

Fewer people go hungry in Europe today, but many – up to three-quarters of the population in some countries – suffer from a form of malnutrition known as hidden hunger. They consume enough calories, but do not get enough of the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) they need to grow, function, stay healthy and fight disease.

On an individual level, vitamin deficiencies and inadequacies can permanently impair an individual’s physical and intellectual development, as well as future productivity. On a national level, hidden hunger increases health care costs and hobbles economic growth.

Buying healthy foods may not be a realistic option for low income families. A recent study of food prices across ten countries found that healthy eating costs an average of €1.10 more per person per day. For low income families who typically spend about €4.40 per person on food, that’s a 25% increase. It adds up to an extra €1,600 a year for a family of four. For many families, healthy eating is simply out of reach.

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