One-Third of World Hurt by Vitamin Deficiency, UNICEF Says
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Vitamin deficiencies are damaging the health of a third of the
world's population and holding back the economic development of
nearly every country in the Southern Hemisphere, according to a
joint report released yesterday by UNICEF and the Micronutrient
The report, released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swit-
zerland, says vitamin and mineral deficiencies have left 2 bil-
lion people living below their physical and mental potential and
are having devastating consequences on children.
Up to 40 percent of children under age 5 in the developing world
have compromised immune systems because of a lack of vitamin A
in their diets, leading to the early deaths of a million young
people, the report says, while iodine deficiency causes up to 20
million babies a year to be born mentally impaired.
Iron deficiencies, it says, have led to productivity losses of
as much as 2 percent of gross national product in the worst-
affected countries, and are responsible for lowering national
UNICEF Executive Directory Carol Bellamy said it was no longer
acceptable to simply identify and treat the symptoms of micronu-
trient deficiencies. "We have to protect entire populations
against the devastating consequences of vitamin and mineral de-
ficiency, especially children," she said.
"There is no excuse for not reaching every human being with
these simple but life-saving micronutrients," she said. "We know
what needs doing - we just have to do it."
The report says U.N. goals to bring vitamin and mineral defi-
ciencies under control can be achieved by deploying "known solu-
tions on the same scale as the known problems." Among the recom-
mendations of the report are that micronutrients be added - at a
cost of a "only a few cents per person per year" - to regularly
consumed foods, such as flour, salt, sugar, cooking oil and mar-
garine, and that vitamin supplements be distributed to at-risk
groups (UNICEF release, Jan. 21).