Food Fortification Could Be Next Global Health Success - If Countries Close Gaps

Data visualization tool identifies opportunities to reach 2 billion people

28 February 2019

Two-thirds of all countries mandate food fortification, yet many are not translating policy into improved nutrition, according to new data from the Global Fortification Data Exchange (GFDx). These countries are missing an opportunity to improve the health of children and mothers, bolster communities, and boost national economies.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, sometimes called hidden hunger, can be life-threatening. They can also cause lifelong conditions, including intellectual disability, preventable blindness, and birth defects. Today, more than a quarter of the global population – 2 billion people – are affected.

The GFDx shows that many countries have taken a critical first step by legislating food fortification. This is a proven, cost-effective, sustainable, and scalable intervention to address hidden hunger by adding vitamins and minerals to staple foods.

According to the latest GFDx data, 137 of 196 countries mandate food fortification of at least one of five foods (maize flour, oil, rice, salt, or wheat flour), while 68 mandate fortification of two foods. However, in these countries, fortified oil, wheat flour, and maize flour reach only 51%, 26%, and 4%, respectively, of the people on average. The rest are potentially vulnerable to deficiency in critical nutrients. Moreover, GFDx shows significant gaps in data that need to be filled to give an accurate picture of both progress and remaining challenges.

"GFDx shows that countries are on board with food fortification, but they're struggling to implement it, or at least not collecting the data on program performance," says Helena Pachón, Senior Nutrition Scientist at the Food Fortification Initiative.

Driving commitment to a healthier world – through data

GFDx allows users to track and map international progress toward fortification of major food staples: specifically, oil, rice, salt, and maize and wheat flour. GFDx aggregates and visualizes data from every country from 1940 to the present. In its newest iteration, GFDx reports population coverage of food fortification, along with food quality, monitoring protocols, food availability and intake, and legislation and standards. With data visualizations designed to engage decision makers, the tool generates custom maps, charts, and tables, and options to download data for offline analysis.

"GFDx isn't just a data tool, it's an advocacy tool, to drive demand and political will,” says Jessica Fanzo, Co-chair of the 2018 Global Nutrition Report and Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University. “Not only does it tell us which foods are fortified and how many people those foods are reaching, it's designed for the right audience: decision makers. As a country leader, if you can see that a critical vitamin is reaching people in a neighboring country, but not your own? That has the potential to be highly motivating."

The tool also promotes critical knowledge exchanges that drive progress. According to Patrizia Fracassi, Senior Nutrition Analyst and Strategy Advisor of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, “We're relying on the GFDx to show us, for example, that a given country has been able to enact and monitor policy, or has scaled up the coverage of fortification, or has shown changes in the consumption of vitamin-rich foods. With these concrete cases we can get to work at an actionable level and encourage countries to learn from each other.”

La próxima semana habrá una versión actualizada en español del Intercambio Global de Datos de Fortificación.  

About the GFDx

GFDx is led by a coalition of the Food Fortification Initiative, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Iodine Global Network, and Micronutrient Forum, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To access the latest data, visit the GFDx at www.fortificationdata.org.

Join the conversation on social media: #GFDx.

For more information, contact Helena Pachón at helena.pachon@emory.edu.