Micronutrients 101

Micronutrients are vital components of good nutrition and healthy physical and mental development.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals needed by the body in only very small quantities but that have a significant impact on a person’s survival, health and development. They are vital components of good nutrition and healthy physical and mental development.

And yet an estimated two billion people are micronutrient malnourished in the world and these deficiencies have life-long consequences. We know that children who do not have enough iron at a young age do not do as well in school; in adulthood, will be less productive. 

Eventually this will have an impact even at the level of the GDP of a country; a country could lose 10 to 14 percent of its GDP on an annual basis because of micronutrient malnutrition. 

We also know that in the Sustainable Development Goals the world has committed to reduce all forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient malnutrition, and we’re not making enough progress on that goal. Many of the other Sustainable Development Goals may also be hindered by micronutrient malnutrition.

The 2021 Lancet series on Maternal and child undernutrition progress identified “eleven Samurai” interventions that have been shown to improve health outcomes and save lives. 

At least eight of these interventions involve micronutrients:

  • Vitamin A supplementation for children under the age of 5 years in deficient contexts 
  • Preventive and therapeutic zinc supplementation for the treatment of diarrhea
  • Breastfeeding promotion and counseling
  • Maternal calcium supplementation in low intake populations
  • Maternal multiple micronutrient supplementation (MMS); 
  • Large-scale food fortification 
  • Small-quantity lipid nutrient supplements for children 6-23 months of age

These micronutrient-focused interventions belong to the most cost-effective development solutions we have on hand. Economists have long hailed micronutrient supplementation and fortification among the world’s best investments, with an average return on investment of $35 USD for every dollar spent.

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