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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the coining of the term vitamin by Polish Biochemist Casimir Funk. The word “vitamine” is derived from the words “vital”, meaning life, and “amine”, a derivative of ammonia; combined it was implied that “vitamine” was an ammonia derivative essential for life. At the time, researchers had a notion that certain micronutrients were responsible for keeping away diseases and ailments. While they were wrong in the assumption that vitamins were ammonia-based derivatives (amines) they were correct in recognizing the role micronutrients play in physical and mental development, prevention of disease, and health , hence the vital part of vitamin. The term stuck.
Since then, the importance of vitamins in physical health and development has been highlighted by independent think tanks and international health organizations alike. Vitamins play a critical role throughout life; they are essential for good health in every stage of the human lifecycle: from pregnancy through infancy and childhood and into adulthood and old age. Our bodies need vitamins to grow, function, stay healthy and prevent disease.
In 2012, the Copenhagen Consensus panel of world-class economists ranked supplementation with micronutrients as one of the most cost effective measures in the alleviation of poverty. According to the report, every $1 spent towards micronutrients is estimated to produce $30 in returns through reduced health spending and improved economic productivity.
While many of the benefits of micronutrients are immediate, such as resistance against malaria and diarrhea, there are also certain benefits which are more difficult to measure, yet have an immense impact. One is the productivity potential that an individual can realize over his/her entire lifetime if he/she does not suffer from effects of childhood malnutrition like blindness or delayed cognitive development. Another potential source of lost productivity is when the mother or caretaker of a malnourished child has to sacrifice time taking care of a sick child.
Since 1994, Vitamin Angels has reached millions of children with vitamins in countries all over the world. Our commitment to servicing communities of those who are at-risk of undernutrition is based in the belief that micronutrients not only save lives, but provide the foundation for good health that will allow children to reach their full potential.
Despite our progress, there is still much to be done. According to a 2009 report authored by UNICEF, WHO and MI, one-third of child mortality is a result of undernutrition, 450,000 children still die from zinc deficiency annually, and 18,000,000 babies are born mentally impaired each year due to lack of iodine. Micronutrients are key to solving our global nutritional challenges. We cannot improve health and development without addressing micronutrient deficiencies.
As we commemorate 100 years of vitamins, Vitamin Angels, along with our program partners at Sight and Life, look back at an amazing discovery, and look forward to vitamins' role in advancing the health and well-being of people all over the world.