Policy seminar: Micronutrients in emergencies – how can we prevent an increase in hidden hunger?

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By Aynsley Morris

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated business shutdowns and other control measures threaten to increase global poverty and along with it, food insecurity—including micronutrient deficiency and associated diseases. A June 9 virtual policy seminar, co-hosted by IFPRI and the Micronutrient Forum, examined what actions are needed to prevent an increase in micronutrient malnutrition, also called hidden hunger.

“If we are not careful, the COVID-19 crisis will set us back several years in our efforts to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition. But it doesn’t have to,” said Micronutrient Forum Executive Director Saskia Osendarp.

The pandemic puts recent gains at risk. Hidden hunger is closely related to GDP; during an economic crisis, it is the first type of malnutrition to appear, as more expensive, nutritious foods are the first to be dropped from household menus.

“Progress has been made in reducing all forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient malnutrition,” said John McDermott, Director of the IFPRI-led CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). “There is increased sophistication in how we address malnutrition, but COVID-19 has shown us the fragility of food systems around the world. Our work is to ensure we protect food systems and good nutrition.”

Osendarp shared the work of nutrition and food systems professionals on a conceptual framework of how COVID-19 is impacting malnutrition. The disruptions of economic, food and health systems are increasing food insecurity, poverty, and inequality, reducing access to nutritious foods and nutrition-specific health interventions, and pushing back progress made in areas such as women’s empowerment and hygiene. These in turn affect diet quality and health, leading to increases in all forms of malnutrition.

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