Figure 1 (Kumar, 2012)
Nutrition is defined by World Health Organization (WHO, 2015) as “the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.” Getting the necessary amount of nutrition on a daily basis is the most fundamental requirement to maintain proper body function. Stronger immune system and higher physical and mental development are two of many personal benefits from a healthy diet (WHO, 2015). Populations with individuals receiving good nutrition regularly also tend to have an increase in overall productivity, higher economic growth, and a reduced level of poverty. Even though there have been significant improvements in global agricultural yield since the adoption of Green Revolution (Global Harvest Initiative, 2010) , there are at least 2 billion people around the world suffering from various kinds of nutritional problems (Global Nutrition Report, 2015), including more than 229 million cases of stunting (chronic malnutrition) and wasting (acute malnutrition) in children (WHO, 2014). Malnutrition has also been found to account for a staggering 35% of deaths in children and 11% of global health problems (Black et al, 2008). Malnutrition is undeniably an important issue, and solving it will first require a complete understanding of its cause and effect to human life.
Undernutrition, also referred to as malnutrition, is a condition of prolonged low level of food consumption. Undernutrition can be categorized into two different subgroups: protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) and micronutrient deficiency (World Hunger, 2015).
PEM occurs when a person lacks macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Carbohydrates and fats release energy required for the proper function of human body. Proteins, on the other hand, are broken down inside the cell to provide amino acids for growth and cell development. Therefore, PEM poses great threat to human health, especially children under the age of 3 where the effects are irreversible (IFPRI, 2010), by causing growth failure such as wasting and stunting.
A person can consume more than his required amount of calories and still be malnourished if he doesn’t consume essential trace elements. This type of malnutrition is called micronutrient deficiency. Three major problems are caused by vitamin A, iodine and iron deficiencies. Deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness and increased susceptibility to diseases. This deficiency affects 250 million people worldwide, mostly from developing countries (WHO, 2015; Bassett & Winter-Nelson, 2010). Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of irreversible mental retardation in children. Even though iodine is the most common type of deficiencies in the world, with an approximate of 1.9 billion people today, it is also the most treatable one (WHO, 2015; Bassett & Winter-Nelson, 2010). The implementation of iodized salt in developed countries over the last 20 years has been a huge success in preventing iodine deficiency. However, in developing countries, the deficiency is still a problem due to limited supply of iodine in soil.
To meet the nutritional demand up to the next century, we suggest these solutions:
The use of genetically enhanced staple crops that contain the essential trace elements can help provide vital nutrients in areas when they are inadequately provided by the available diet.
Dietary supplements, such as multivitamin pills or food bars, can be used to treat undernutrition. These supplements can provide the required nutrients that some food can’t supply and usually have a long storage time which allows for distribution to remote areas, which make them a great choice to treat malnutrition.
One innovative idea for a nutrient supplement is currently being implemented by the United Nation’s International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Cambodia (“Innovative food supplements take a bite out of malnutrition in Cambodia”, 2015). The food supplement, packaged in form of wafers, contains the essential macronutrients and micronutrients and is hoped to reduce the number of malnourished children of age 6-24 months and pregnant and lactating mothers. This strategy of using supplements to fulfill the nutritional demand can adapt to various conditions and regions around the world by incorporating local ingredients and accounting for taste preference in the population. These wafers are planned to be mass produced and marketed at an affordable price by local companies throughout Cambodia in 1-2 years.
Figure 2 The food supplement developed and being tested by UNICEF in Cambodia
Food supplementation can be used as both a short-term and long-term solution to malnutrition. In short-term, these production of supplements should be increased. WHO, in collaboration with UNICEF, should provide large quantity of vitamin A pills to areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines, where more than 30% of children are Vitamin A deficient (WHO, 2015). The distribution of Vitamin A in these regions should also be through primary schools, as children are generally more prone to the negative impacts of the deficiencies than adults. In the long-term, the development of the food supplements similar to the UNICEF’s wafers can be used to prevent malnourishment. By incorporating various kinds of local agricultural products, the food supplement is expected to be cheaper than the imported supplement and help reduces the country’s reliance to external aid. In addition, the use of biofortified crops can help increase the variation of food supplement and enhance the nutritional value even further for a balanced diet.
The presence of a sustainable and reliable infrastructure is required to deliver food and supplements (such as the previously mentioned iodized salt) from areas with abundant resources to the areas in need. Therefore, expansion of infrastructure to cover a larger area is needed.
Malnutrition has many negative impacts on the human health. By producing food that satisfies macronutrient and micronutrient requirements, implementing the use of supplements that fulfill nutrient needs that are unavailable from existing crops and distributing these food and nutritional supplement products, it is feasible to reduce prevalence of global malnutrition by the next century.
- Genetically Modified Crop Research and Development Policy
- Application and Distribution of Genetically Modified Crops
- Infrastructure in Developing Countries
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