By: Talking Nutrition Editors
Migrant workers account for a fifth of the total workforce in high income countries. ii Despite their significant contribution to their host country’s economies, a considerable proportion lives with ‘hidden hunger’ due to nutrient-poor diets of empty calories. ii Hidden hunger is widespread, with an estimated one-third of the world’s population suffering from at least one form of micronutrient deficiency. iii
Workers in physically demanding sectors like the garment, construction and plantation industries are particularly susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies. The reason is twofold: one, they require more energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to function than sedentary workers; and two, because these workers have a diet mostly composed of staple foods, which provide energy but have low overall nutritional value beyond protein and carbohydrates. iv As a result, these workers are at risk for severe deficiencies in micronutrients, which can compromise immunity, v increase the likelihood of illness and negatively impact physical and cognitive development. vi
The negative effects of hidden hunger can jeopardize a population’s health and wellbeing. In turn, this public health issue impacts the financial and social development of businesses and communities - with organizations in low- and middle-income countries losing between US$130 billion and US$850 billion in productivity each year. vii
Workers suffering from iron and vitamin deficiencies experience symptoms of weakness, fatigue, poor work productivity or difficulty concentrating. viii Food fortification can help to improve workers’ micronutrient status, and the cost of fortifying foods with micronutrients is small compared to the economic benefits of averting disease, boosting earnings and enhancing work productivity. In fact, on a weighted average basis, every $1 spent fortifying foods generates $27 in economic return. ix
A well-fed and healthy workforce is critical in combating poverty and hunger, and the alleviation of both has the benefit of promoting economic growth. dsm-firmenich has a longstanding commitment to combatting malnutrition with staple food fortification, and recently supported an interventional study with Singaporean social enterprise 45Rice investigating how consuming 500 grams of cooked fortified rice twice daily might impact the health and nutrition status of migrant workers in the construction sector. ii
140 healthy Indian and Bangladeshi male migrant construction workers living in a single hostel dormitory in Singapore agreed to participate in this study, however, seven failed the initial screening and were unable to complete the program. Undertaken for six months, the study aimed to determine whether consuming fortified rice for lunch and dinner each day would improve the worker’s micronutrient and health status compared to baseline. The rice was enriched with vitamin A, thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, niacin, iron and zinc.
The 133 eligible subjects had their blood samples taken and vital signs measured before the study commenced and after its conclusion. At the start of the study, researchers found that workers were deficient in folate (59% presenting with folate deficiency) and vitamin B12 (7% deficient and 31% marginally deficient). ii
The results of the study revealed that the 100 workers who completed it showed a significant increase in hemoglobin (Hb), iron status (ferritin), vitamin B12 and zinc status after six consecutive months of twice daily fortified rice consumption. Workers also showed reduced homocysteine. High homocysteine levels may indicate existence of deficiency in vitamins B12, B6 and folate, which may be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, Bangladeshi workers showed reduced systolic blood pressure; over time, high systolic blood pressure can increase the risk of strokes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. The results indicate that fortified rice can have a positive impact on the health and nutrition status of male migrant construction workers, indicating its potential for combating micronutrient deficiencies.
Rice fortification is a cost-effective way of adding vitamins and minerals to improve its nutritional value. The cost impact of rice fortification is only 1 -4% of the current retail price of rice. x A small initial investment in fortification infrastructure can help better nourish for those living with micronutrient deficiencies, delivering multiple health, social and economic benefits. xi
dsm-firmenich is committed to combatting hidden hunger through provision of nutritional solutions such as fortified rice and by providing support for partner studies and interventions to improve the nutrition, health and wellbeing of millions. To learn more about how fortifying staple foods can help create brighter lives for all, visit our nutrition improvement hub.
05 October 2023
3 min read
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