Micronutrient Facts

Micronutrients, often referred to as vitamins and minerals, are vital to healthy development, disease prevention, and wellbeing. Although only required in small amounts, micronutrients are not produced in the body and must be derived from the diet1.

Micronutrient deficiencies can have devastating consequences. At least half of children worldwide younger than 5 years of age suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies2. The role of six essential nutrients is outlined below.

Iron
  • Iron is critical for motor and cognitive development. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the consequences of iron deficiency3.
  • Iron is a leading cause of anemia which is defined as low hemoglobin concentration. Anemia affects 43% of children younger than 5 years of age and 38% of pregnant women globally3.
  • Anemia during pregnancy increases the risk of death for the mother and low birth weight for the infant. Worldwide, maternal and neonatal deaths total between 2.5 million and 3.4 million each year3.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends iron and folic acid supplements for reducing anemia and improving iron status among women of reproductive age4.
  • Fortifying flour with iron and folic acid is globally recognized as an effective, low-cost intervention5.
A classroom full of smiling children

Preventing iron deficiency helps improve children's learning ability and cognitive development.

Vitamin A
  • Vitamin A supports healthy eyesight and immune system functions. Children with vitamin A deficiency face an increased risk of blindness and death from infections such as measles and diarrhea6.
  • Globally, vitamin A deficiency affects an estimated 190 million preschool-age children6.
  • Providing vitamin A supplements to children ages 6-59 months is highly effective in reducing deaths from all causes where vitamin A deficiency is a public health concern6.
Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D builds healthy bones. Vitamin D deficiency causes bone diseases, including rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults7.
  • Vitamin is required for muscle and nerve functions8.
  • Vitamin D helps the immune system resist bacteria and virsues8.
Iodine
  • Iodine is required during pregnancy and infancy for the infant’s healthy growth and cognitive development9.
  • Globally an estimated 1.8 billion people have insufficient iodine intake9.
  • Iodine content in most foods and beverages is low.
  • Fortifying salt with iodine is a successful intervention – about 86% of households worldwide consume iodized salt10.
  • The amount of iodine added to salt can be adjusted so that people maintain adequate iodine intake even if they consume less salt11.
A close up of salt being poured from the container into a measuring spoon.

Fortifying salt with iodine successfully increases intake of iodine.

Folate
  • Folate (vitamin B9) is essential in the earliest days of fetal growth for healthy development of the brain and spine12.
  • Ensuring sufficient levels of folate in women prior to conception can reduce neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly)12.
  • Folic acid is another form of vitamin B9. Providing folic acid supplements to women 15-49 years and fortifying foods such as wheat flour with folic acid reduces the incidence of neural tube defects and neonatal deaths13.
Beautiful wheat field on bright sunny summer day

Flour can be fortified with folic acid at low cost, helping prevent birth defects and some forms of anemia.

Zinc
  • Zinc promotes immune functions and helps people resist infectious diseases including diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria14. Zinc is also needed for healthy pregnancies14.
  • Globally, 17.3% of the population is at risk for zinc deficiency due to dietary inadequacy; up to 30% of people are at risk in some regions of the world15.
  • Providing zinc supplements reduces the incidence of premature birth, decreases childhood diarrhea and respiratory infections, lowers the number of deaths from all causes, and increases growth and weight gain among infants and young children15.
References
  1. Micronutrients; Macro Impact, the Story of Vitamins and a Hungry Worldexternal icon – Sight and Life
  2. The State of the World’s Children 2019external icon – UNICEF
  3. Global, regional, and national trends in haemoglobin concentration and prevalence of total and severe anaemia in children and pregnant and non-pregnant women for 1995—2011: a systematic analysis of population-representative data pdf icon[PDF – 408KB]external icon – The Lancet
  4. Guideline: Intermittent iron and folic acid supplementation in menstruating women.external icon – WHO
  5. Micronutrient Fortification and Biofortification Challengeexternal icon – Copenhagen Consensus
  6. Guideline: Vitamin A supplementation for infants and children 6-59 months of ageexternal icon. – WHO
  7. Global prevalence and disease burden of vitamin D deficiency: a roadmap for action in low‐ and middle‐income countriesexternal icon – Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
  8. What is vitamin D and what does it do?external icon National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
  9. Global Iodine Status in 2011 and Trends over the Past Decadeexternal icon – The Journal of Nutrition
  10. What is being done internationally about iodine deficiency?external icon – Iodine Global Network
  11. Iodization of salt for the prevention and control of iodine deficiency disordersexternal icon – WHO
  12. Folic Acid – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  13. Folic acid to reduce neonatal mortality from neural tube disordersexternal icon – Database of Abstracts of Reviews and Effects
  14. Zinc and infant nutritionexternal icon – Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  15. Estimating the Global Prevalence of Zinc Deficiency: Results Based on Zinc Availability in National Food Supplies and the Prevalence of Stuntingexternal icon– PLoS ONE