How does hidden hunger threaten public health?

Nutrition is not only filling the stomach. The nutrients necessary for maintaining and sustaining health must be consumed in adequate amount accompanied by a balanced diet. The amino acids and micronutrients (that is, vitamins and minerals) that are essential for physical and mental health must be included in the diet since they cannot be synthesized by the body.

Even if a diet includes sufficient protein and energy, imbalanced nutrition or a lack of access to safe, nutritious foods can lead to a deficiency in vital vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, and selenium. Hidden hunger is when not enough of these vitamins and minerals, or micronutrients, are taken in. It is a common nutrition problem, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries.

Hidden hunger can be caused by both malnutrition and excessive consumption.

Even if a person feels full, or has taken in enough energy, it does not mean they have taken in sufficient amounts of nutrients essential for the functioning of the body.

Hunger and hidden hunger are different concepts. “Hunger” can be described as difficulty in accessing or failure to access food. The term hidden hunger covers all health issues induced by the insufficient intake of minerals and vitamins due to hunger and/or malnutrition or excessive but unbalanced nutrition. Globally, as a result of unbalanced nutrition, the need for essential nutrients is rising as the proportion of overweight and obese individuals is increasing.

The symptoms of vital nutrient deficiency can take a long time to manifest. Hidden hunger weakens the immune system, stunts physical and mental development, and may even be fatal.

Hidden Hunger in Numbers

• WHO figures show that 7 million children die before reaching the age of 5 due to hidden hunger every year.

• UNICEF figures show that a child dies of hunger every 15 seconds.

• 10 percent of the world population, or nearly 795 million people, struggle with hunger.

• Vitamin and micronutrient deficiency is responsible for 10 percent of the global health burden.

• Annually, an average of 807,000 children experience a development disorder as a result of deficiencies in vitamin A, zinc, or other nutrients, that is to say, hidden hunger.

• Every year, 18 million babies are born mentally impaired due to iodine deficiency.

• The WHO reports that each year, 450,000 children aged 6 months to 5 years die due to diseases associated with zinc deficiency.

• While iron deficiency affects 40 percent of women in the developing world, severe iron-deficiency anemia causes the death of 50,000 young women per year globally in pregnancy and childbirth.

• The mortality rate related to nutritional problems and metabolic diseases in Turkey has reached 5.1 percent.

• The results of the Turkey Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (TDHS 2013) reveal that one in 10 children under the age of 5 has stunted growth.

• According to the Turkey Nutrition and Health Survey 2010 (TNHS 2010), 4.1 percent of children under the age of 5 are underweight.

• The WHO reports that zinc deficiency is particularly severe in Turkey, alongside countries like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, India, China, and Pakistan.

Responsibilities and Objectives in the Struggle Against Hidden Hunger

Academia, the government, the food industry, foundations, associations, nongovernmental organizations, and the media should work in cooperation with each other to support and raise awareness of adequate and balanced nutrition in society. It is very important to develop new approaches in the evaluation of the dietary intake of both individuals and society; to encourage the food industry to offer nutrient-rich products; and for associations and community organizations to support the nutrition education of the public.


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