Experts estimate that 2 billion people, mostly in poorer countries, suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, also known as hidden hunger. This is caused by a lack of critical micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron in the diet. Hidden hunger impairs the mental and physical development of children and adolescents and can result in lower IQ, stunting, and blindness; women and children are especially vulnerable. Hidden hunger also reduces the productivity of adult men and women due to increased risk of illness and reduced work capacity.
In 2008, The Lancet published a landmark series of articles on maternal and child undernutrition highlighting the extent of hidden hunger. One study cited in the Lancet series found that men who had received nutrition supplements (that included micronutrients) from ages 0–36 months earned a higher hourly wage than men who had not received the supplements. The group that received nutrition supplements from ages 0–24 months earned 46 percent over average wages. Hidden hunger’s enormous consequences, not only to individuals but also to society through reduced economic productivity, have brought more attention to the issue recently. Also in 2008, a panel of noted economists that included five Nobel Laureates, ranked efforts to reduce hidden hunger among the most costeffective solutions to global challenges. One of these efforts, biofortification, was ranked fifth.