Impact of Micronutrient Deficiency in Adolescents in Low-Income Countries Only Poorly Researched and Inadequately Included in Health Programs

Impact of Micronutrient Deficiency in Adolescents in Low-Income Countries Only Poorly Researched and Inadequately Included in Health Programs

One in four people on earth is currently between ten and 24 years old. 90 % of them live in low or middle income countries. The livelihood of these adolescents has been poorly researched and less understood, commented Robert Blum, director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and Jo Boyden, a professor of international development at the University of Oxford, England in the Journal Nature (1).

According to the two scientists millions of young people in poorer countries are living a life with health deficits and developmental disorders as well as low life expectancy. Very early employment of the youth, often under precarious social and environmental conditions, poor access to education and health services, crime as well as the long-term consequences of malnutrition contribute to these unfavorable conditions. Serious nutritional deficiencies since early childhood lead to reduced physical and mental fitness, which irreversibly restrict the learning ability and the life opportunities of adolescents. Young people affected by poverty and limited access to education, health and other services are more likely to be exposed to environmental toxins and the consequences of extreme weather conditions (such as drought) than their wealthier peers (2).

A study published in 2014, A 2014 study analyzed World Bank data from 51 African countries to identify the social and economic drivers of teenage pregnancies. The study authors concluded from the relationships between teenage pregnancy and low literacy that education of women, increased spending in the health sector, and a general increase in per capita GDP should improve the situation (3).

Health policy for young people in poorer countries has so far been oriented too much to Western understanding of adolescence, such as the typical quest for independence and risk-taking. Respective health programs, if existing, are therefore primarily focused on the prevention of violence, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy in general, without taking into account the root causes of this behavior. This is not enough according to the experts, who are pointing out that since 1990 there has been less progress in the health of young people than in any other age group. Risks faced by young people as a result of poverty, work, stigmatization or marginalization of qualified social and health-related education should be more complexly ascertained and taken into account.

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(1) R. Blum und J. Boden. Understand the lives of youth in low-income countries. For most of the world’s adolescents, poverty and social marginalization influence health much more than risk-taking does, argue Robert Blum and Jo Boyden. Comment. Nature 554, 435-437 (2018) 21 February 2018, available via

(2) Reference is made to the publication of A Georgiadis et al. Growth trajectories from conception through middle childhood and cognitive achievement at age 8 years: Evidence from four low- and middle-income countries. SSM Popul Health. 2016 Dec; 2: 43–54. Available via

(3) O. Odejimi1, D. Bellingham-Young. A Policy pathway to reducing teenager pregnancy in Africa. Journal of Human Growth and Development, 2014. 24(2):135-141, available via

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