Given the high prevalence of iron deficiency, limited dietary diversity, and the potential to improve maternal and child health, iron fortification has emerged as a crucial strategy to combat iron deficiency anemia particularly and overall malnutrition in the country.
According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, 49.1% of children under the age of 5 years are malnourished with iron deficiency, making it one of the top deficiencies in the country. It is imperative that children be given good sources of iron e.g., organ meat, dark green leafy vegetables etc. and products fortified with iron.
Actively working to reduce iron deficiency is important because it can lead to anemia, impaired cognitive development, reduced immune function, and increased risk of maternal and child mortality. Fortifying staple foods with iron can help address this deficiency and improve overall health outcomes.
While there are multiple approaches to resolving the malnutrition crisis, one of the reasons why iron fortification is considered a viable solution to it is that it is a cost-effective public health intervention. It is relatively inexpensive, scalable, and can reach a large population through existing food distribution channels. By fortifying staple foods, such as milk and dairy nutrition solutions, wheat flour or edible oils, with iron, the nutritional status of the population can be improved without significant changes in dietary habits or additional healthcare costs.
Fortification is also backed with research as the research community across the globe is working on enhancing the nutritional value of food and food ingredients. Massey University New Zealand has come up with a new and improved iron source (known as Iron+), which offers 3 times more absorption in body vs the existing best available source of iron.
A country like Pakistan needs to focus on producing and increasing the reach of fortified dairy and food products and fortified nutrition solutions (like complementary food for early childhood) that can be an effective vehicle for fortification that can improve nutritional quality of diets and thus support normal healthy growth and development in children.