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A recent article by The Economist describes what “has become one of the world’s neglected scourges: the bad diet of the poor" and how "small doses of vitamins could make a huge difference to the world’s health.” The article points out that vitamin A deficiency cripples the immune system and that 500,000 children around the world go blind each year from lack of vitamin A, half of whom will die within a year. It explains that nutrient-deficient children have more diseases and lower educational standards than their better-fed peers, perhaps because they cannot concentrate in class.
Instead of a top-down approach that supplies cheap food like bread and rice, which are high in calories but lack micronutrients, the article suggests that governments, companies and international institutions should provide “good food by stealth.” This means providing small, discrete interventions like vitamin supplementation or food fortification to people who may be skeptical of certain diets or who believe the quality of the food is not their highest priority.
As the article states, “Copenhagen Business School asked some Nobel-winning economists the best way to spend money to help the world, nutritional projects topped the poll. Vitamin A supplements cost just a dollar or two. Their benefits—preservation from fatal diseases, higher lifetime earnings—so massively outweigh the tiny costs…” The article also pointed to the importance of focusing such interventions on babies and children, providing them with a foundation that is especially critical during their first 1,000 days of life.