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26 February 2010: The Hidden Hunger: Its impact on good performance

Dar es Salaam, 26 February 2010 - The Kilimanjaro Marathon is a grueling race that will be run for the eighth time on Sunday, February 28th 2010, in Moshi. It is the pride of every runner to participate in this exciting race. That’s why they take their nutrition seriously. Every runner participating in the Kili marathon knows the value of good nutrition and its impact on their performance. Vitamins and minerals are essential to help build strong muscles, bones and good blood. 

Yet many Tanzanian children may never have the chance to walk, let alone run the Kili Marathon. Every year more than 42,000 children under five years die from malnutrition in Tanzania.  In other words, for each meter of the 42, 195 meters of the Kili marathon, one Tanzanian child dies from causes related to malnutrition. They die from common diseases, such as diarrhea, pneumonia and measles which they would have survived had they been well-nourished.

According to the UNICEF Tanzania Chief of Child Survival Programme, Dr. Abdulai Tinorgah, “The human costs of malnutrition are enormous. Besides the daily tragedies of child and maternal deaths, millions of children are doing less well at school and will be less productive as adults because of poor nutrition.”

Malnutrition is caused not only by eating too little food but also by a lack of vitamins and minerals in the food.  This form of malnutrition is referred to as “the hidden hunger’’ because it often has no visible warning signs.  Hidden hunger is not very familiar to the general public and it is often overlooked by the government, NGOs, donors and also by parents.  However, hidden hunger is a form of malnutrition that can easily be prevented by simply adding vitamins and minerals in food products to help build the body’s immune system and safeguard the health and lives of children. 

Lack of iron is one of the most widespread forms of malnutrition in Tanzania and affects children, women and men.  However, you cannot tell whether someone has iron deficiency by their appearance, which is why so few people get the treatment they need. Iron deficiency has numerous effects: it impairs learning capacity of 90 percent of pre-school aged children; in adults it decreases work productivity by up to 17 percent; and more than 1600 women die every year from complications related to anemia during childbirth. 

There exist affordable and practical solutions to fight hidden hunger. The most cost-effective solution to reach millions in Tanzania is to add vitamins and minerals to staple foods, such as maize flour and oil, a process called ‘food fortification’. This standard public health intervention has been around for almost a century and is currently present in more than 50 countries around the world, including our neighbors Kenya and Uganda. Tanzania has yet to join the list of countries.

Food fortification is critical if Tanzania is to improve the health and well-being of its people. It is cost-effective. Fortifying food will cost each person in Tanzania approximately Tsh 20 per week  In contrast, failing to invest in food fortification will cost the country more than Tsh 150 billion per year.

It is critical that the ministries of health and industry step up their efforts to set national standards to enable food companies in Tanzania to start fortifying food. Many food companies have expressed their willingness to fortify foods, and their continued collaboration is crucial in fighting the scourge of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the country.

In conclusion Dr. Tinorgah said that, “As the Kilimanjaro marathon runners pound the pavement meter after meter, each Tanzanian should resolve to ensure that this time next year - one child life is saved with every meter – and that our children grow up well-nourished and have the opportunity to run those meters in their lives for better health, well-being and productivity.”

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About UNICEF
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For additional information, please contact: 
Jacqueline Namfua, +255 22 2196627, jnamfua@unicef.org

Harriet Torlesse, +255 787600114, htorlesse@unicef.org

 

 
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