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5 Diseases To Destroy through Food Fortification

What is food fortification? In an ideal world we would all have access to a wide variety of nutrient rich foods which provide all the vitamins and minerals we need. Unfortunately many people, especially in poorer countries, this is often not feasible or affordable. Today 2 billion people survive on diets that lack the vital vitamins and nutrients needed to grow properly, live healthy lives, and raise a healthy family. Pregnant women, babies and young children are particularly vulnerable. Malnutrition is the largest single contributor to disease in the world. It is a sad fact that 45% of all child deaths have malnutrition as the underlying cause. Food fortification, which is the addition of essential nutrients to staple foods and condiments such as flour, oil and salt, helps people to avoid deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. We can make a big impact on disease through food fortification. Here’s how:

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Spina Bifida

Via Flickr: gainalliance

Each year 1,500 babies are born with Spina Bifida, just in the US alone. Spina Bifida is a fault in the development of the spine and the spinal cord, which leaves a gap in the spine. The effects can range from paralysis to severe brain damage. Folic acid is naturally occurring in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, Swiss chard or kale, and pregnant women are encouraged to take pre-natal supplements to boost folic acid supplies.

Increasingly governments are making flour fortification mandatory, adding folic acid to your weekly diet. Senegal is one such country.

Goiter

Via Flickr: gainalliance

A goiter is an inflammation in the thyroid gland. Although goiters are usually painless, a large goiter can cause a cough and make it difficult to swallow or breathe. Left untreated it can have serious effects.

Goiters are usually a result of iodine deficiency, one of the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable causes of brain damage. Iodine helps us stay warm, keeping the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.

Adding iodine to salt can fight goiter and other iodine deficiencies, and is the simplest, safest and most inexpensive intervention to ensure an adequate iodine intake. The World Bank reports that global salt iodization would cost just US$0.05 per child per year.

Read about GAIN’s efforts to add iodine to salt in India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Indonesia.

Night blindness

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Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, affecting 100-140 million children around the world. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. The highest proportion of pre-school age children suffering from night blindness is in Africa.

Vitamin A is found in fruits, vegetables, eggs, whole milk, butter, meat, liver and some fish. Unfortunately millions of people don’t have access to a diet that contains these foods. Large scale fortification programs add Vitamin A to maize, wheat flour, or oil, providing people with Vitamin A, even if they can’t afford to eat a diverse diet.

Click here to read about fortification of vegetable oil in Indonesia.

Rickets

Via Flickr: gainalliance

Rickets affects bone development, causing the bones to become soft and weak. The most common cause is a lack of vitamin D and calcium, and a deficiency in either can be particularly dangerous to babies and children as their bones are constantly growing.

In several countries, such as the US, fortifying milk with Vitamin D is mandatory. Some of your favorite breakfast cereals are also fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. GAIN works with governments, such as the Government of Bangladesh in order to build Calcium and Vitamin D fortification into their health plans.

Anaemia

Via Flickr: gainalliance

Anaemia is a serious iron deficiency, which can result in delayed development in children and affect the mental functioning of teens. It can lead to depression and decreased productivity, impacting not just individuals but populations. Anaemia is also the leading cause of maternal death.

Iron and Vitamin B12 are essential minerals that fight exhaustion and Anaemia by carrying oxygen through the lungs and around the body to maintain a healthy nervous system. At GAIN we are working to fortify everyday foods from the local market with iron – like baladi bread in Egypt, or soy sauce and fish sauce in Vietnam, giving women up to 40% of their recommended daily allowance of iron.

Since 2002, GAIN's food-fortification programs have reached hundreds of millions of people around the world. By 2017, we aim to reach 1.3 billion people, including 400 million women and adolescent girls and 200 million children under 5 through large-scale food fortification programs which support the additional intake of critical micronutrients.

To learn more about food fortification, watch our short video.