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Vitamins & minerals for children fortifies economic development in China

© UNICEF/HQ04-4645/Xiaoping
Bellamy presents the 'Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A Damage Assessment Report for China'

Protecting 250 Million Chinese From “Hidden Hunger” Could Boost GDP by $86 Billion Over 10 Years, UNICEF Says

BEIJING/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 3 September 2004 – China’s massive drive to reduce the damage done by vitamin and mineral deficiency, particularly to children, is paying rich dividends for its economy, UNICEF and the Chinese Ministry of Health announced today.

But more needs to be done to help the 250 million people still suffering from the devastating effects of iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin A deficiency and other forms of hidden hunger, they added.

Speaking at the Beijing launch of the “Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A Damage Assessment Report for China”, UNICEF’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy praised the Government of China and the Ministry of Health for their extraordinary efforts to reach over 90 per cent of China’s 1.3 billion population with iodized salt, protecting a total of 133 million infants from brain damage due to iodine deficiency over the last ten years. 

In 2002 alone, 14 million newborns benefited from this extra iodine in their mothers’ diets, safe guarding them from brain damage and raising their IQ by 10 to 15 points.   If these achievements on iodine are sustained, China’s economy is expected to swell by US$25 billion over the next ten years thanks to a more productive workforce.

“This is just one example of the substantial return countries can expect for what amounts to a tiny per capita investment in children’s physical and intellectual wellbeing,” Bellamy said.

But both Mr. Wang Longde, MOH Vice Minister, and Ms. Bellamy stressed that the Government’s success with iodine should be just the beginning of a campaign to increase children’s access to lifesaving vitamins and minerals. 

China’s “Damage Assessment Report”, produced by UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative, shows that the cupboard is still bare for many Chinese children who are struggling without essential micronutrients they need to survive and thrive. 

Iron deficiency may be impairing cognitive development in over 20 per cent of Chinese children between six and 24 months.  About 12 per cent of children are deficient in Vitamin A, which, as Mr. Wang Longde stated, “leads to impaired immunity in children, so there is an increased likelihood of infectious diseases including pneumonia and diarrhea.”

There are 19 million babies born in China every year, and every one of them has the right to reach their full potential.  If their development suffers, Mr. Wang Longde said this “will form a vicious cycle together with poverty, hampering China’s social and economic development.”

Even small deficiencies can prevent children from thriving. Chronically inadequate diets leave children easy prey to disease and diarrhoea.  Their capacity to learn at school, or eventually to earn a living, can be permanently diminished – eroding the health and prosperity of entire nations.

But solutions are cost-effective, simple and proven.

Food fortification is an internationally recognized means of bringing vitamins and minerals to the majority of a country’s population.  In China, UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Improving Nutrition and Asian Development Bank have been working with the Government and private food companies to promote the fortification of staple foods like flour, soy sauce and salt with iodine, iron and other vitamins and minerals. 

In poor communities, providing supplements via low cost vitamin and mineral capsules, syrups or tablets can be a critical tool to bring down child mortality and improve quality of life for millions. Because pregnant women, nursing mothers and their children suffer most from deficiencies, it’s particularly critical to ensure that their special needs are met. 

At the household level, education is the best long-term assurance that families will improve the nutritional content of their diets at home. Informed caretakers can make better decisions for their children and in many cases stop deficiencies before they start.

“The Government of China regards the Chinese people’s nutrition and health as a high priority, adopting a variety of measures for nutrition improvement,” said Mr. Wang Longde.  International experience to date proves that that no other technology offers so great an opportunity to improve lives at such a low cost and in such a short time. 

UNICEF and the Chinese Ministry of Health noted that the cost of reducing VMD is only a couple of US cents per person per year – while the potential economic benefits in China could be as high as $86 billion over the next ten years. To realize this potential will take the combined efforts of national and provincial governments, international agencies, private sector food companies, the media, and civil society.
 
Bellamy stressed that although some progress has been made to date, vitamin and mineral deficiency remains a global crisis.  Across the world, it keeps a third of the world’s people from reaching their full physical and intellectual potential, according to research by UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative. 

The two organisations have prepared over 80 “Damage Assessment Reports” for the most seriously affected nations, assessing the extent of the impact. Bellamy urged these countries and all global leaders to follow China’s example in making deficiency control a major public health priority.

“Of the 10 million children dying every year, mostly from preventable causes, lack of these essential nutrients shares the blame in more than half,” she said.  “Reducing this toll is a moral imperative.  It is also a practical and affordable possibility, guaranteed to save millions of lives.”

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For more information, please contact:

Koenraad Vanormelingen, UNICEF China (English),
86-10-6532-3131 ext. 1601

Liu Li, UNICEF China (Chinese),
86-10-6532-3131 ext. 1303, 

Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, 212-326-7452,

Madeline Eisner, UNICEF EAPRO, Bangkok,
66-2-356-9406,

Ibrahim Daibes, The Micronutrient Initiative, Ottawa,
+613 782 6805

B-roll footage is available to broadcasters upon request.


 

 

 

Audio

3 September 2004: Nita Dalmiya, UNICEF's Project Officer on Nutrition, talks about how vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect China's children, as well as the children worldwide.

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