In 2008 the Copenhagen Business School asked eight eminent economists to imagine they had $75 billion to spend on causes that would most help the world.
Five of their top ten involved nutrition: vitamin supplements for children, adding zinc and iodine to salt and breeding extra micronutrients into crops.
Lack a Day
Deficiencies and their effects
Micronutrients, RDA Deficiency Effects
|Calcium, 1000-1300 mg||Rickets, osteoporsis|
|Iodine, 150 ug||Goitre, mental retardation|
|Iron, 8-18 mg||Anemia|
|Sodium, 1.5 g||Nausea, fatigue, confusion|
|Zinc, 8-11 mg||Infections, Diarrhea|
|Vitamin A, 900 mg||Night-blindness|
|Folic acid, 400 mg||Birth Defects|
|Vitamin C, 90 mg||Scurvy|
|Vitamin D, 5-10 mg||Rickets|
Source: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
Of the 40 nutrients people need, four are in chronically short supply: iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A.
- Vitamin A is essential for the mucous membranes that protect the body’s organs, such as the eyes. Lack of it causes half a million children to go blind every year; half of them die within a year as their other organs fail. Vitamin A supplements were the Copenhagen experts’ top choice.
- Zinc deficiency impairs brain and motor functions and causes roughly 400,000 deaths a year.
- Iron deficiency (anemia) weakens the immune system and affects, in some poor countries, half of all women of child-bearing age.
Too hungry to think properly
The missing nutrients bite wide and deep. Education levels drop (malnourished children concentrate poorly); earning-power weakens. Even marriage chances wane: malnourished boys marry women of lower educational levels when they grow up.
One third of all childhood deaths are caused by undernutrition. For young children, essential nutrients help build the foundation for good health and the opportunity to lead meaningful and productive lives.
Handing out vitamin pills (and fortifying common foods with micronutrients such as iodine in salt) are simple strategies that can make a huge difference. One group that’s doing exactly that is called Vitamin Angels.
What You Can Do
Vitamin Angels is a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize and deploy private sector resources to advance the availability, access and use of micronutrients- especially vitamin A- by newborns, infants and children in need. Essential nutrients enable young immune systems to fight infectious diseases, helping children attain good health and the opportunity to lead meaningful and productive lives.
Their “Operation 20/20” for example, connects infants, children and lactating women to Vitamin A. An estimated 190 children worldwide suffer from vitamin A deficiency and Operation 20/20 has dramatically decreased mortality rates in areas targeted by this program by 23%. In 2010, Operation 20/20 reached approximately 20 million infants and children and another approximately 4 million lactaing women in 30 countries on three continents.
Vitamin Angels also has a program called Thrive to Five which currently distributes around 100 million doses of essential micronutrients annually in about 20 countries on four continents (including the United States).
You can find out more about the Vitamin Angels Program here.