Fortification and the
‘Faces of Anemia’
by Sarah Zimmerman, Communications Coordinator, Food Fortification Initiative (FFI)
Wheat flour, maize flour, and rice are most commonly fortified with iron and folic acid to reduce the risk of debilitating anemia from nutritional deficiencies and devastating birth defects from insufficient folic acid.
Evidence published within the past five years supports the effectiveness of fortification to address these health issues.
nemia is when a person’s hemoglobin levels are low. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to tissues and muscles, consequently low hemoglobin causing anemia results in extreme fatigue. The Food Fortification Initiative (FFI) is currently collecting stories of people’s experiences with anemia through a “Faces of Anemia” campaign. Scott McNiven, a Regional Food For Peace Officer based in Africa, said having anemia was “like being a zombie.” With anemia, he did not have the energy to play with his children or be productive at work. Sarah Zimmerman, FFI Communications Coordinator who made the presentation at the GRAPAS meeting, said having anemia was like having jet lag. No matter how much she slept at night, she had trouble focusing and staying awake during the day. Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia. The World Health Organization (WHO) says iron deficiency in pregnancy
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contributes to about 20 percent of the cases of maternal deaths globally, and iron deficiency in children limits their intellectual capacity. WHO also reports that iron deficiency is significantly present in industrialised countries as well as developing nations. Peter Böhni, Manager Director, EPFL Innovation Satellite and Head Corporate Technology Value Nutrition for Bühler AG, said he was astonished to find out how many of his friends and neighbors in Switzerland had experienced anemia. In making the presentation, Zimmerman challenged participants to follow Böhni’s example and begin asking people to describe what it is like to have anemia. Worldwide an estimated 801 million women and children have anemia, according to a study published in the Lancet Global Health in July 2013. The total includes: • 496 million non-pregnant women • 32 million pregnant women • 273 million children Fortifying wheat flour, maize flour, and rice with iron and other key nutrients can address anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies. The study in the Lancet Global Health said half the anemia among women and 42 percent of the anemia in children in 2011 was attributed to iron deficiency. The following four studies indicate that fortifying is beneficial for reducing the risk of anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies: • In Costa Rica, fortifying wheat flour and milk with a bioavailable form of iron reduced anemia in women and children and improved the iron status of children. • In Fiji, fortifying wheat flour reduced the prevalence of iron, folate, and zinc deficiency in women of child bearing age; also the percentage of women with anemia dropped from 40.3