The world’s food supply is seriously lacking in iron and zinc, according to an international study led by researchers from the U.K. and Austria. Their article, released in the journal Global Food Security, looked at the current micronutrient deficiency in food systems around the world, especially in areas that need it.
This phenomenon, which researchers dubbed as “hidden hunger,” can be seen everywhere, but its effects are more pronounced in the global south – a term that describes economically disadvantaged areas. In particular, the team looked at zinc and iron deficits, as they are known to be introduced into food through the soil and other crop factors. Zinc, in particular, is an area of concern: An earlier study in PLoS One identified countries in South and Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America to be at risk of inadequate zinc intake, based on its availability in their national food supplies.
Similarly, multiple studies have also identified iron deficiency as one of the most prevalent forms of malnutrition, with most cases seen in Asia and Africa.
In the study, the team offered four ways to increase a person’s intake of zinc and iron: (1) using supplements, (2) fortifying food, (3) diversifying diet, and (4) fortifying crops biologically using breeding and fertilizer-based approaches.
An area that researchers identified to be a cause of concern is Sub-Saharan Africa, where cases of zinc deficiency could be worse than iron deficiency, based on supply estimates. However, the team acknowledged gaps in their study, which meant that the situation on the ground could be far different from their calculations.
“Recent analytical advances, including the use of stable isotopes of [zinc] and [iron], can play an increasing role in improving our understanding of the movement of micronutrients in food systems, and thereby help to reduce the immense human cost of hidden hunger,” the team concluded in their report.