October 16, 1995
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EDT
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Much of the world's population is starving, and the signs are usually obvious. But more widespread is another kind of hunger, one for which the signs are hidden. The victims might not look sick, because deficiencies of vitamin A, iodine or iron work slowly. But eventually, great deficiencies can cause brain damage, deformity, blindness, and even death.
Now, international programs are helping to solve what is called micronutrient malnutrition. The problem was the subject of a recent meeting in Atlanta sponsored by groups including UNICEF and the World Bank. "Almost all ministries of health or governments have become aware about the problem of micronutrients," said David Alnick of UNICEF. "There has been a rapid change over the last few years.
In Guatemala, for example, the government claims sugar fortified with vitamin A has had remarkable results. Giving children vitamin A capsules is another approach used in Vietnam and Bangladesh.
But fortifying food and distributing supplements are not the only solutions. Simply eating the right foods can help get rid of micronutrient malnutrition. In Bangladesh, for example, people eat plenty of rice but not enough vegetables with vitamin A. So public health workers encourage people to grow their own vegetables.
"Really, the long term final solution is obviously a mother's knowledge and food production being adequate," said Dr. Michael Latham of Cornell University. "If there are enough fruits and vegetables at the right price or everyone has a home garden and grows enough of those foods and feeds them to their kids ... that to me is the sustainable solution."
Such tiny amounts of the nutrients are needed to improve health that many countries have successfully fought hidden hunger. About 100 nations are fortifying salt with iodine and 35 countries are on their way to alleviating vitamin A deficiency and the illnesses that go with it.
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