Global impacts of human mineral malnutrition

Abstract

Malnutrition—in the form of insufficient energy intakes—affects millions of people worldwide and the negative impact of this kind of hunger is well acknowledged, not least by agronomists trying to increase yields to ensure a sufficient supply of food. This review focuses on another, more particular and “hidden” form of malnutrition, namely mineral malnutrition. It illustrates the burden of disease that is caused by mineral deficiencies and the social and economic consequences they bring about. Mineral malnutrition has a considerable negative impact on individual well-being, social welfare and economic productivity. Agricultural scientists should keep the nutritional qualities of food in mind and—next to optimizing the agricultural properties of crops that are paramount for their adoption by farmers—in particular try to increase the micronutrient content in major staple crops as one way to address vitamin and mineral malnutrition in humans; especially plant breeding approaches promise to be very cost-effective.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The FAO and the WFP differentiate between “malnutrition” (the physical condition resulting from inadequate or unbalanced nutrient intakes or their poor absorption), “undernutrition” (the physical manifestation of prolonged low level food intakes with serious deficiencies in one or a number of macronutrients and micronutrients), “undernourishment” (a situation where people’s food intakes are continuously insufficient to meet their basic energy requirements), “micronutrient deficiency” (lack of essential vitamins and minerals as a result of malnutrition) and, less of relevance in the present context, “overnutrition” (the physical condition resulting from an excess of certain nutrients, which also falls under “malnutrition”) (FAO 1999; WFP 2007). Yet, as the WFP acknowledges, there is some disagreement on what these terms mean and how they relate to each other. Nevertheless, despite being somewhat artificial, such a categorization may offer a relatively clear and consistent way of approaching the issues.

  2. 2.

    In this context usually also vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is listed, but as the focus of this article is on minerals, vitamin malnutrition is not further considered here.

  3. 3.

    Even though potassium is an essential mineral (for which e.g. in the USA health claims on foods are permitted), potassium deficiency due to insufficient potassium in the diet is rare and not commonly considered a public health problem; deficiency is rather caused by excessive losses or poor retention.

  4. 4.

    Stunting can also be an outcome of undernourishment; in cases where undernourishment and ZnD occur in parallel, ZnD increases the prevalence or severity of stunting (Stein et al. 2005).

  5. 5.

    Other authors suggest that causal relationships may exist between micronutrient deficiencies and obesity in different populations (García et al. 2009).

Abbreviations

CaD:

calcium deficiency

CGIAR:

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

FAO:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

FeD:

iron deficiency

FeDA:

iron deficiency anemia

GDP:

gross domestic product

GM:

genetically modified

ID:

iodine deficiency

IPR:

intellectual property rights

SeD:

selenium deficiency

VAD:

vitamin A deficiency

VMD:

vitamin and mineral deficiency

WFP:

World Food Programme

WHO:

World Health Organization

ZnD:

zinc deficiency

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The author thanks Thomas Fellmann for revising the manuscript.

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Stein, A.J. Global impacts of human mineral malnutrition. Plant Soil 335, 133–154 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-009-0228-2

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Keywords

  • Humans
  • Micronutrient malnutrition
  • Mineral deficiencies
  • Burden of disease
  • Social and economic costs
  • Biofortification