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micronutrients nutrition

Who’s at Risk? Biophysical and Market Forces Shape Crop Nutrient Content: Guest Post by Leah Bevis

This is the eighth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
Worldwide, over 800 million people are lacking energy: they are hungry. Yet far more, over 2 billion people, suffer from “hidden hunger,” micronutrient deficiencies that impair cognition, impede skeletal growth, put both mothers and infants at risk of death, and reduce life-long productivity for those who survive (Kennedy, Nantel and Shetty 2003; Horton, Alderman and Rivera 2009).

However, despite the prevalence and far-reaching ramifications of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, precise deficiency rates are difficult to estimate, and individuals rarely know their own micronutrient status. Nutritionists and policy-makers often gauge a person or populations’ micronutrient status by estimating micronutrient intake, which is constructed according to food consumption/supply data and a Food Composition Table (FCT) that gives a fixed nutrient content value for all foods (e.g., here or here). But food nutrient content is not fixed; it is a conditional distribution that shifts over space and time. Therefore, intake estimates that rely on FCTs will fail to capture heterogeneity in micronutrient intake, tend to under-estimate deficiency prevalence, and fail to detect key vulnerable populations dependent on staples with lower-than-average micronutrient content.