What if there was one nutrient that would take away feelings of constant fatigue, keep hearts beating regularly, and help kids to get better grades in school and reach their potential? What if this “magical” nutrient would prevent dizziness, provide strength and energy, protect against other diseases, keep mothers from dying during delivery, and keep babies alive past their fifth birthday?
If you had access to that food, would you buy it for yourself? If you had it, would you give it away -- even to someone halfway across the globe?
In the world of global nutrition, that nutrient does exist. It is called iron. Iron is all over the place in America -- beef, pork, chicken, seafood, beans, breads, cereal, and dark leafy greens. With all of these food sources, it seems like it would be so simple to get enough iron.
Not so, for as many as 2 billion people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, not having enough iron is among the most serious global public health problems. While iron deficiency exists even in the United States and other developed countries, it is not as widespread because of greater access to food and healthcare.
But in countries where many live on less than $2 a day and don’t have access to clean water, medicine, or a constant supply of food, iron deficiency causes a host of problems by attacking physical and mental health. In fact, iron deficiency affects health so negatively that medical professionals estimate that entire countries could be 20 percent more productive if people had access to enough iron!
Children and pregnant woman are especially vulnerable to iron deficiency, to the point where the World Health Organization estimates that 40 percent of children have a much harder time learning because they do not have access to enough iron.
In other words, if the health of people living in a country was better, they would feel better, learn better, and be able to do more to make their lives better.
Iron deficiency is just reason why it's not enough to simply feed those who are hungry. The food must be well-planned and nutritious. World Vision is providing ready-to-use therapeutic food, which has the perfect balance of iron and other vital nutrients.
In Mozambique, the gaba-gaba sweet potato helps to give children the nutrition they need. ©World Vision
When nutrition is given at the right time and in the right amounts, it can make a huge, huge difference. For example, when World Vision consistently gave out ready-to-use therapeutic food in South Sudan, the recipients had a 92.8-percent improvement rate in their nutritional health. When World Vision focused on providing nutrients like iron in Ghana, the rate of anemia (a condition often caused by not having enough iron) among children was decreased by 44 percent!
World Vision is also helping to train farmers in countries like Mozambique to grow nutritious foods like gaba-gaba -- a new variety of sweet potato loaded with good calories, iron, folic acid, vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and even more of the vitamin A that children need. Gaba-gaba thrives in soils and climates where other vegetables don't grow well. And the best part? It's all completely natural to help the health of children.
June is National Hunger Awareness month, so take a minute to stop and recognize how important the fight against hunger really is. Good nutrition isn’t just a matter of filling empty stomachs. It can be the key to health, development, and even survival for many, many people across the globe.
This post was submitted by Sarah Thomsen of World Vision's health and hope team, which focuses on grants and monitoring the quality of our programs in the areas of maternal and child health and health education. Sarah graduated with a bachelor of science degree in nutrition science from Russell Sage College.