Proper intake of vitamins and minerals can mean the difference between a healthy, productive life, and a life fraught with illness. Micronutrient deficiencies, which affect over two billion people around the globe today, are the leading cause of intellectual disability in children (due to iodine deficiency), preventable blindness (due to vitamin A deficiency), maternal death during childbirth (due to iron deficiency), and severe and often fatal birth defects known as neural tube defects (due to folic acid deficiency). Diminished mental capacity and increased absenteeism (due to iodine and iron deficiency), lead to lower academic achievement, with lifelong consequences.
A lack of these important vitamins and minerals also has a profound impact on the body’s immune system. A person’s chances of dying from measles or diarrhea are between 30 – 50%. With adequate micronutrient intake, this percentage can be lowered significantly due to the effects vitamins and minerals have on bolstering the immune system. Immune systems weakened by a lack of micronutrients put children at increased risk, making them more likely to miss school. Adults are more likely to miss work either due to their own illness, or to care for sick children. Both add to the load of already overburdened healthcare systems.
Even those who are not sick suffer diminished ability to concentrate and reduced physical and mental productivity, preventing them from reaching their full potential and increasing the likelihood of further disease and disability. What emerges is a grim cycle compounded by insufficient healthcare and education, poor sanitation, and disease.
A mother who is lacking key nutrients not only increases her chances of dying during childbirth, but also risks not being able to provide her child with the proper nutrients needed to begin life.
Beyond the enormous health implications, micronutrient malnutrition has an economic impact. The Micronutrient Initiative and the World Bank estimate that the most affected countries may lose as much as 2 – 3 % of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year.