April 5, 2008

Micronutrients and Education Key to Reducing World Hunger

A new study reported Friday found that just $1.2 billion in targeted government investments in dietary supplements and education on infant nutrition could create significant advancements toward ending hunger in developing nations. 

The study said such investments could help a billion of the poorest people in Africa and Asia, saving millions of lives and delivering annual economic benefits of more than $15 billion from lower health bills and longer, more productive lives.

"Hunger and malnutrition are responsible for millions of deaths. But there are relatively inexpensive ways to help address the problem," Susan Horton of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, one of the report's three authors, told Reuters.

The study was one of a series commissioned by The Copenhagen Consensus, a project by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg about the costs of solutions to world problems ranging from terrorism to AIDS.

The report was written by Horton, along with specialists from the World Bank and Mexico's National Institute of Public Health, and was issued just prior to annual World Health Day on April 7.  

It estimated that micronutrient measures would bring annual benefits of $5 billion from improved health. 

The study found the total cost of adding micronutrients such as flour and iron to curb anemia, vitamin A capsules to help children's eyesight and immune systems, and iodine to salt to avoid thyroid damage would be $347 million.

It also said that education about nutrition, largely to promote breast-feeding of babies, would cost about $798 million but bring annual benefits of $10 billion.

A $27 million per year investment in projects to give medicines to kill off worms and other intestinal parasites among pre-school children would bring returns of $159 million, according to the report.

"The long-term solution to hunger has to be poverty reduction and improving food availability," Horton told Reuters.

"In the meantime, we suggest a few things that will help a lot: micronutrients...and educating people about the most vulnerable age -- the weaning age for children when their brains are growing," she said.

Among the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the world in 2000 is cutting in half the number of people worldwide who suffer from hunger, now almost a billion, by the year 2015.