Insights and Reflections by Dr. Erick Boy, Chief Nutritionist at HarvestPlus and Micronutrient Forum’s Conference Program Committee, Track 2 Co-Chair. This post is part of the Exclusive #N4R Previews blog series.
I’m not one to blog (ever), however, I am particularly eager to share both my thoughts and enthusiasm for the upcoming Micronutrient Forum’s 6th Global Conference to be held at the Hague and online this October. This event holds a unique place among international nutrition conferences, with a focus on the importance of vitamins and minerals, aiming to provide solutions for preventing and treating deficiencies that disproportionately affect significant numbers of vulnerable populations worldwide.
This year’s theme is centered on how “mighty nutrients” empower individuals and communities, granting them the toughness and adaptability (e.g., resilience) required for better health and better lives. It aligns with the challenges faced in the real world, where crises are frequent and occur within the causal framework of underdevelopment and loss of human potential.
Dr. Erick Boy getting acquainted with bean breeding for higher iron in Rwanda experimental fields.
The entire #N4R conference program is framed around solutions that strengthen the resilience of individuals, communities, and populations.
Staying up to date with the vast amount of ongoing research in the field of human nutrition can be daunting. Finding universally accepted solutions to lighten the plight of over two billion vulnerable people is a challenge. Experts gathered at #MNF2023 will share cutting-edge knowledge in a way that allows us to find answers, discuss the feasibility and sustainability of these solutions with our peers and luminaries from different fields, and foster new connections and collaborations. That is why I am eagerly looking forward to participating.
In my role as co-chair for Track Two, I have the privilege of contributing to the development of a comprehensive program focused on the evidence generated by randomized trials on the efficacy and safety of micronutrient interventions. I am particularly motivated by four sessions: tackling anemia and iron deficiency, addressing the triple burden of disease with micronutrients, biofortification for resilience (“let plants do the fortification”), and the latest trials investigating the efficacy and safety of micronutrient interventions.
Allow me to elaborate on why these sessions pique my interest.
Have you ever wondered why anemia prevalence has been so difficult to combat or why mild-moderate anemia is considered harmful? Consider anemia as an ecological phenomenon, an adaptation to malaria and chronic inflammation, but not consistently associated with iron deficiency nor the cause of high morbidity and mortality per se.
Dr. Erick Boy, HarvestPlus, and partners at a field of wheat biofortified with zinc in Pakistan.
Are we assessing anemia prevalence accurately when we measure it using capillary blood drawn by a lancet prick? Is the standard protocol to administer iron-folic acid supplements enough to halve anemia by 2030? Sessions in Tracks One and Two will address these dilemmas. These sessions aim to challenge the current paradigm and present feasible solutions to guide our future actions.
Another session in my “cannot miss” list explores the causal relationship between zinc, vitamin D, selenium, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). How does the intake of micronutrients like zinc and vitamin D thwart the progression of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some types of cancer? Zinc deficiency is no longer solely a risk factor for diarrhea-related morbidity and mortality in children; it could account for a significant number of the disability-adjusted life years lost to diabetes. I think that given the evidence, micronutrients should be in the clinician’s and public health experts’ arsenal to prevent a significant fraction of the burden associated with NCDs. I’m excited to hear from other experts in the field and discuss how we can translate this knowledge into action.
One approach to strengthening micronutrient status that resonates with me is biofortification.
The Forum's 6th Global Conference
The Hague, Netherlands and Virtual
Biofortification involves increasing the micronutrient density of staple crops consumed by poverty-stricken populations, thereby enhancing their resilience. From drought-resistant maize and millets to submersion-resistant rice and early maturing varieties of wheat and rice, these crops hold tremendous potential. At the conference, we’ll have the opportunity to explore the first meta-analysis of the efficacy of biofortified crops and learn from the results of a trial involving multiple biofortified crops in a national child feeding program.
Of course, more important than any one intervention, practitioners must learn to combine effective interventions in a context-specific manner, aligning them with the expectations and contributions of taxpayers and donors. Complementary micronutrient interventions, such as biofortification and large-scale food fortification, combined with public health and economic interventions, can truly build up the resilience of individuals and communities. The session on ‘the latest efficacy and safety trials on micronutrient interventions’ offers an excellent opportunity to explore what’s emerging from this toolbox and whether there are any safety concerns with “doing too many things” without carefully considering all the pros and cons. The session will discuss the safety of multiple vitamin A-fortified foods in the same food system, and more.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog, I’m not one to blog about anything. But, when it comes to the prevention of the loss of human potential of future generations that hidden hunger provokes, I lose track of time (and word counts). I hope to see you at The Hague!