Food fortification could be the next global health success story – if countries close the gaps

Geneva, 28 February 2019 - 

Two-thirds of all countries mandate food fortification to combat hidden hunger, yet many are not necessarily translating policy into improved nutrition, according to new data from the Global Fortification Data Exchange (GFDx). These countries may be missing an immense opportunity to improve the health of children and mothers, bolster communities, and boost national economies.

Hidden hunger, also known as micronutrient deficiency, is a lack of critical vitamins and minerals. It can be life-threatening and cause lifelong conditions, including intellectual disability, preventable blindness, and birth defects. Today, it affects more than a quarter of the global population –  2 billion people.

GFDx shows that many countries have taken a critical first step to eliminate hidden hunger through the legislation of food fortification – a proven, cost-effective, sustainable, and scalable intervention to address hidden hunger by adding vitamins and minerals to staple foods.

GFDx shows that countries are on board with food fortification, but they’re struggling to implement it, or at least not collecting the data on program performance

Helena Pachón, Senior Nutrition Scientist, Food Fortification Initiative (FFI)

According to the latest GFDx data, 137 of 196 countries mandate food fortification of at least one food, while 68 mandate fortification of two foods. However, in these countries, commonly fortified foods – oil, wheat, and maize flour – reach only 51%, 26%, and 4%, respectively, of people on average. The rest are potentially vulnerable to deficiency in critical nutrients. Moreover, GFDx shows significant gaps in data that need to be filled to give an accurate picture of both progress and remaining challenges.

"GFDx shows that countries are on board with food fortification, but they’re struggling to implement it, or at least not collecting the data on program performance," says Helena Pachón, Senior Nutrition Scientist at the Food Fortification Initiative.

Driving commitment to a healthier world – through data

For the first time, GFDx allows users to track and map international progress toward fortification of major food staples: specifically, oil, rice, salt, and maize and wheat flour. GFDx aggregates and visualizes data from every country from 1940 to the present. In its newest iteration, GFDx reports population coverage of food fortification, along with food quality, monitoring protocols, food availability and intake, and legislation and standards. With data visualizations designed to engage decision makers, the tool generates custom maps, charts, and tables, and options to download data for offline analysis.

Heads of wheat in a field with blue sky

Heads of wheat in a field, ready to be harvested. © GAIN

"GFDx isn’t just a data tool, it’s an advocacy tool, to drive demand and political will," says Jessica Fanzo, co-Chair of the 2018 Global Nutrition Report and Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University. "Not only does it tell us which foods are fortified and how many people those foods are reaching, it’s designed for the right audience: decision makers. As a country leader, if you can see that a critical vitamin is reaching people in a neighboring country, but not your own? That has the potential to be highly motivating."

The tool also promotes critical knowledge exchanges that drive progress. According to Patrizia Fracassi, Senior Nutrition Analyst and Strategy Advisor of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, "we’re relying on the GFDx to show us, for example, that a given country has been able to enact and monitor policy, or has scaled up the coverage of fortification, or has shown changes in the consumption of vitamin-rich foods. With these concrete cases we can get to work at an actionable level and encourage countries to learn from each other."