Researchers have just come out with a “Hidden Hunger Index” highlighting hot spots of micronutrient deficiency in low-income countries such as India, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin A, and iodine are critical for the proper health and development of children. Without them, children face a much higher risk of stunting, weakened immune systems, cognitive impairment, and increased morbidity from infectious diseases such as pneumonia and malaria. The effects of micronutrient deficiency carry over into adulthood, accounting for approximately 7% of the annual global disease burden and resulting in decreased worker productivity, which ultimately affects the overall economic strength of the nation.
In conducting their research, the investigators focused largely (and rightfully so) on low-income countries where poverty and hunger are rife. But what about the effects of micronutrient deficiency in more developed countries? We can see in the Hidden Hunger map above that data are “not available” for many developed countries. What about the effects of this “hidden hunger” in the US, where rates of obesity, malnutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies are increasing hand in hand? What about the effects of this “hidden hunger” among poor populations and children in the US and other developed countries?
The reason for this glaring omission can be found in the paper’s abstract, where it states that the purpose of the Hidden Hunger Index is “to help prioritize program assistance, and to serve as an evidence-based global advocacy tool…in the call for increased commitments to scale up effective nutrition interventions…[which are] crucial to the achievement of most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).” According to Klaus Kraemer, Ph.D., one of the study’s co-authors, “We need leaders and champions to move forward…This index can be used to blame and shame governments that are not doing anything.” But how “global” is an index that leaves out entire continents? Are developed country governments not worthy of the same blame and shame we so eagerly dish out to lower-income countries?
As we work towards defining the post-MDG development agenda, let’s make sure that the agenda – and the tools and indices used to support it – applies to ALL countries, not just those below a certain GDP per capita.