Micronutrient Deficiencies

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Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts its own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organizations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

Impact Summary

  • Importance: 3.5/5
  • Tractability: 4.5/5
  • Neglectedness: 4/5
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Charity Impact

  • Cost Effectiveness: 5/5
  • Robustness of Evidence: 2/5
  • Track Record: 2.5/5
  • Room for More Funding: Yes
Learn More Project Healthy Children

Fast Facts

  • Micronutrient deficiencies affect more than 2 billion people across the globe, and are caused by diets that lack sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals.
  • Over half of all years-lived-with-disability for children are attributable to micronutrient deficiencies, representing an enormous burden on global health.
  • Fortunately, there exists a wide range of strategies that can effectively and inexpensively address micronutrient deficiency, largely by fortifying existing staple foods.

Micronutrient deficiency occurs when the human diet lacks one or more of the vitamins and minerals essential to healthy growth and development.

These deficiencies affect billions of people across the planet and are responsible for serious health problems, including growth stunting, cognitive impairment and various other morbidities. Insufficient iron is the most common cause of micronutrient deficiencies, causing anemia in more than 30% of the world's population. Other nutrients commonly found to be deficient in impoverished populations include iodine, zinc, folate, and vitamin A.

Aside from their health burden, these deficiencies also have grave effects on economic efficiency, national development and educational outcomes. Research in Guatemala suggests, for example, that addressing micronutrient deficiencies can raise wage rates by nearly 50%.

Thankfully, micronutrient deficiencies can be addressed inexpensively and effectively. By fortifying staple foods with vitamins and minerals, nutrients can be delivered to target populations at an extremely low cost. Cost estimates for salt iodization, for example, are in the range of 10-20 cents per person per year.