Micronutrient deficiencies are a form of malnutrition caused by an insufficient uptake of vitamins and minerals (also known as micronutrients), which are essential for human health, growth and development.
This form of malnutrition is often a major public health problem in populations in the developing world where the availability of a diverse supply of foods is limited. Micronutrient deficiencies put people at increased risk of early mortality, disease, and disability. Among the populations most vulnerable to micronutrient malnutrition are infants, young children and pregnant women, due to their higher dietary requirements.
Micronutrient deficiencies are a significant cause of illness and premature death throughout the world. This is particularly true in the developing world, where nearly 20% of the population suffers from iodine deficiency, about 25% of children have sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency, and 40-60% suffer from anemia. The global prevalence of individuals with iron deficiency and anemia which was estimated to be 1 billion in 1990 is now in the range of 2 billion. The WHO estimates that every second pregnant woman and 40% of preschool children in developing countries are anemic.
Micronutrient deficiencies also lead to impaired growth and cognitive development, birth defects, cretinism, and blindness, as well as decreased school and work performance and poor general health. There is evidence that iron deficiency may affect the economy of countries, with reductions of up to 2% of their GDP.
The overarching nature of the problem was described at the Copenhagen Consensus (2008) led by top international economists who prioritized interventions to advance the lives of people living in developing countries. Controlling micronutrient deficiencies, specifically vitamin A, zinc, iodine and iron, was ranked as the highest and third highest priority among 30 proposed solutions.
Addressing micronutrient deficiencies will also help bring us closer to achieving five of the eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015 (eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases).