Hidden hunger is a kind of undernutrition which occurs when people consume meals deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, sometimes known as micronutrients. Even when they consume adequate calories, those with hidden hunger might experience nutritional shortages. These deficits can lead to a number of health problems, such as impaired growth and development, lowered immune system activity, increased risk of illness and mortality, and more.
Hidden hunger is a common problem in societies where the bulk of the diet consists of staple foods poor in micronutrients including iron, zinc, and vitamin A. Micronutrient deficiencies are caused by a variety of conditions, including poor food, increased micronutrient needs during particular life stages, such as puberty, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, and medical conditions including diseases, infections, or parasites.
Clinical indicators of hidden hunger, such as night blindness from vitamin A deficiency and goitre from insufficient iodine intake, become apparent once deficits become severe, despite less obvious “invisible” effects impacting a much wider portion of the population’s health and development. Therefore, vitamin deficiencies are sometimes referred to as hidden hunger.
- More than half of all preschoolers and more than two-thirds of women of reproductive age do not receive enough of the essential nutrients for healthy growth and development, according to findings published in Lancet Global Health, which offers the most thorough analysis to date. These new and alarming statistics for micronutrient deficiencies highlight the depth and breadth of hidden hunger. The analysis reveals startlingly high rates of micronutrient deficiencies in high-income countries, impacting one in two women in the UK and one in three women in the US, despite the fact that South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the greatest regional prevalence levels.
- According to estimates from the Global Hunger Index and the World Health Organisation (WHO), up to 2 billion people worldwide are already malnourished and up to 2.8 million fatalities per year may be linked to iron, vitamin A, or zinc deficiencies.
- According to the Lancet Report, at least one of the three micronutrients is deficient in 69% (59-78) of non-pregnant women of reproductive age and 56% (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 48-64) of preschool-aged children globally. These figures correspond to 12 billion (10–14) non-pregnant women globally and 372 million (95% UI 319–425 ) preschoolers. Overall, 98 million preschool-aged children reside in sub-Saharan Africa (UI 83–113), 99 million do so in South Asia (95% UI 80–118), and 85 million do so in East Asia and the Pacific (UI 61–110). More than half (57%) of non-pregnant women of reproductive age with micronutrient deficiencies live in East Asia and the Pacific (384 million, 279-470) or South Asia (307 million, 255-351).
Causes of Hidden Hunger
- Hidden hunger typically results from people’s struggles to include enough nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, food grains, pulses, legumes, meat, etc., in their diets. Therefore, communities without a consistent food source experience vitamin shortages.
- Additionally, the battle is primarily brought on by poverty and an individual’s poor income. The majority of nations that experience poverty and employment challenges also experience hidden hunger. In addition, eating disorders and other medical illnesses when people don’t consume a particular nutrient also induce hidden hunger and make their symptoms apparent. The most obvious symptoms of micronutrient deficits are anaemia or goitre. This makes it easier to find any hidden hunger.
Steps Taken to Combat Hidden Hunger
- Food Fortification: To address the lack of certain micronutrients, programmes for food fortification have been implemented in a number of countries. To avoid iodine deficiency, for instance, iodine is added to salt in the United States, while iron and folic acid are added to wheat in various other countries to prevent anaemia.
- Supplements: A scientific method of supplying individuals with the nutrients they require directly, supplements employ syrup or tablets. Its main advantage is that it can provide the correct quantity of nutrients in a highly absorbable form. Iron and vitamin A supplementation schemes in India are aimed at children under five.
- Dietary Diversity: By varying one’s diet, one can increase their consumption of foods high in micronutrients. Foods of various types, such as dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, must be readily available and delivered in the proper quantities. With a diversified diet, many dietary ingredients, including probiotics and antioxidants, may be taken, increasing the population’s total nutritional intake. The best approach to combating secret hunger is to vary your diet.