Today we are releasing another part of our evaluation of Project Healthy Children, this time generally looking into how worthwhile micronutrient fortification of staple foods is. For those who don't have time to read the full report, the key bottom lines are:
Micronutrient deficiency is a serious problem in the developing world, with many groups, in particular children and pregnant women, failing to get all of the nutrients they need for ideal health and development.
The most problematic deficiencies identified are in iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc. Which deficiencies are present differs a lot by region.
Mass fortification, in which micronutrients are put into staple foods, appears to be one of the most effective ways to quickly reduce such deficiencies. There are numerous case studies showing fortification apparently improving the nutritional status of a population.
It is hard to quantify the benefits provided by micronutrient fortification, but several groups have tried. We have not yet critiqued their research methods, but present their results.
The 'benefit-cost' ratio of food fortification is usually reported at 5 or higher, and in some cases over 20. The reported cost of saving a 'year of healthy life' ranges widely by location and trial, but in many cases falls between $20 and $100 per year of healthy life.
Nonetheless, the quality of evidence on micronutrients, fortification and health is patchy. While all of the claims above seem reasonable, there is reason to be cautious in interpreting the data available.