A silent epidemic is afflicting more than a quarter of humanity — 2 billion people — around the world. It accounts for 11 percent of the global burden of disease. This epidemic disproportionately harms young children and in some of its forms causes 1 in 5 maternal deaths. Unlike with climate change, cancer or global conflicts, ending this epidemic is well within our grasp; in fact, the cure has existed for almost a century, and it costs pennies per person.
“Hidden hunger” is a new term for an age-old problem we know how to solve. It refers to the lack of access to micronutrients critical to proper physical and cognitive development. In the developed world, the simple practice of food fortification has integrated essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron, iodine and folic acid into diets invisibly, effectively and on a mass scale. Nothing illustrates or makes the case better than the simplest of foods: salt. Since we began adding iodine to salt in 1922 and enriched other staple foods such as bread and milk, we have virtually eradicated many debilitating but preventable diseases, raised collective IQ and provided a stronger foundation for healthy, productive lives. Ninety years ago, the introduction of salt iodization wiped out goiter and cretinism in parts of the United States and Europe
Food fortification is a simple, cost-effective recipe that could improve the well-being of millions, yet too many countries are falling behind. For many in the international community, addressing malnutrition is a footnote to acute health crises such as food insecurity and the outbreak of diseases, yet the chronically malnourished more than twice outnumber the hungry, and 60 percent of children who die from easily treatable diseases such as malaria would survive with adequate nutrition. Vulnerable countries lose 2 to 3 percent of GDP to hidden hunger’s effects.