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The Role of Food Fortification in Public Health


Satellite Symposium at the Hidden Hunger Congress, Hohenheim University, Stuttgart, Germany, Thursday 7th March 2013

Today international nutrition experts are meeting at a satellite symposium of the Hidden Hunger Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. At the symposium, which
is hosted by the Nestlé Nutrition Institute, the experts will share new scie ntific findings demonstrating the critical role of appropriate food fortification as a sustainable, effective and a beneficial intervention in public health to address micronutrient deficiencies in children and women.

Micronutrient deficiency is a common public health problem in developing countries, especially for infants and children in the first two years of life. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies account for 10% of the global health burden. The most prominent micronutrient deficiencies worldwide include iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc and vitamin B12.

While developing countries are most severely affected, the problem is widespread, and micronutrient deficiencies are also significant in certain populations within industrialized countries.

A systematic review to evaluate the effectiveness of iron fortification and relevant clinical outcomes confirmed that this is a very effective public health strategy.

“Very few studies compared supplementation and fortification head to head, and our findings suggest that in some cases iron fortification can be a more effective strategy in certain settings for reducing anemia among school aged children”, says Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta from the Aga Khan University Hospital in Pakistan.

A holistic approach to fortification of prepackaged food is important. Special attention needs to be given to portion size and to excess intake of nutrients. ”If implemented appropriately, pre-fortified packed foods have numerous important benefits. Those include industry technology and distribution; packaging that protects the nutrients and reduces organoleptic deterioration; they can contain nutrients difficult to supply through mass fortification, and many need little or no preparation and can be popular especially with children” said Prof Lindsay Allen, Director of the USDA ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, California, USA.

In a new health economics study commissioned by the Nestle Nutrition Institute, researchers from the Winterthur Institute of Health Economics in Switzerland analyzed the burden of micronutrient deficiencies and the impact of fortified foods. “We found that iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies lead to substantial cost. Milk and cereal products fortified with iron, and a combination of other micronutrients can be an effective strategy to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anemia in children, to 57% less than non-fortified foods. Multiple fortification has more pronounced effect on hemoglobin levels than iron single-fortification” said Prof Wieser, the lead investigator.

Ideally, these essential nutrients should be obtained from a normal, varied diet. However, for a number of reasons many people do not consume a healthy balanced diet.

Improving the health of individuals suffering from hidden hunger has wide-ranging economic consequences. Deploying appropriate multi-sectoral strategies to address micronutrient deficiencies can reduce child and maternal mortality and prevent birth defects and developmental disabilities and consequently improve productivity and economic growth of nations and lift people out of poverty says Prof. Ferdinand Haschke, Chairman of the Nestlé Nutrition Institute.

The Nestlé Nutrition Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to providing a world-class overview of the most critical nutritional issues of the day.

Notes to editors:
The Nestlé Nutrition Institute (NNI) fosters “Science for Better Nutrition” by sharing science based information and education to contribute to the enhancement of the quality of people’s lives all over the world.
The Nestlé Nutrition Institute shares leading science based information and education with health professionals, scientists and nutrition communities and stakeholders, in an interactive way.

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