At the end of the project “Teens4Kids“ (2015) the F.A.Z. had an interview with Prof. Dr. Gerd Assmann:
F.A.Z.: The competition for schoolchildren “(K)eine Spur von Hunger“ (A/No Trace of Hunger) was dedicated to the special phenomenon of malnutrition in Germany: “hidden hunger“. Could you please explain that a bit more in detail?
Prof. Assmann: Hidden hunger is a illustrative paraphrase for the permanent deficiency of vital micronutrients. Deficiency of micronutrients does not depend on the calorie intake and cannot be assigned to unambiguous external symptoms over an extended period of time thus remaining hidden.
It is especially the children who suffer the most and in many respects:
If, for example, micronutrients such as iron, iodium, zinc or vitamin A are missing during the first 1,000 days following insemination, both the physical and mental development will be affected in an almost irreversible way and the risk of contracting chronic diseases will remains high for a lifetime and will even be passed on to the offspring. Even though hidden hunger is most widespread in poorer African countries, in sub-Saharan regions and in Asia where some 2 billion people are affected and one young child dies of malnutrition almost every five seconds, clear traces of micronutrient deficiencies can increasingly be found also in Germany where such traces are often ignored. It is especially poverty and an unbalanced diet that aggravate hidden hunger in this country. The influx of refugees from food-insecure ,crisis-stricken countries will additionally worsen the micronutrient deficiency problem in Germany to a degree still unconceivable. Moreover, the climate change leads to lower crop yields already now both in terms of quantity and quality so that we cannot assume that the usual nutrient density in our foodstuffs can be taken for granted in the future. Today – and almost simultaneously with the award ceremony for “Teens4Kids“, the United Nations in New York in the presence of outstanding representatives of the global public will establish priorities of development policy for the next 15 years. The UN’s agenda for the future will give top priority to the commitment against micronutrient deficiency and put the sustainable securing of the world’s food supply into the global focus – a symbolic course setting also for the “Teens4Kids“ initiative.
F.A.Z.: In the framework of the competition, pupils prepared children’s pro-grams; they carried out a workshop with an elementary school class on healthy nutrition or started a photo competition on Facebook by inviting children and young people to post their photos of healthy and tasty food. This peer-to-peer approach makes the difference when compared to other school competitions. How would you describe your experience with the competition?
Prof. Assmann: First of all I felt my impression confirmed that we can learn from children how knowledge in the field of preventive medicine can be passed on in an appealing way also in terms of media. Above all, the impressively multifaceted competition results make it clear how children and adolescents wish to be addressed in their specific living environment. Basi-cally, the objective is to experience medical prevention in the immediate surroundings of the same age groups in a positive way. This is an approach that should really be developed further and be taken into account in order to be able to prepare attractive preventative offerings tailored exactly to day care centres, schools or children and youth facilities. Such concepts lend themselves ideally for being pursued by health insurance companies.
F.A.Z.: Progress in the field of digital media technologies gets an increasing influence on everyday life and on young people’s health-related behaviour. In your opinion, what is the potential of digitalisation in terms of health prevention?
Prof. Assmann: Right from its beginnings, the Assmann-Stiftung für Prävention has taken advantage of the benefits of a digitalised world. Thus, for example, we present the results of research in preventive medicine in a concise way and comprehensibly in detail both to experts and laymen on our website at www.assmann-stiftung.de. We inform families about various offerings from the field of preventive medicine via our app “AppzumArzt“. Thanks to digital media it has become easier to arouse children‘s and young people’s interest in health prevention faster and in a more personal way, provided the information given is adapted to the lifestyle of the young generation. I personally, associate the options of digitalised health prevention, for example in telemedicine, with the increased responsibility for qualified information, i.e. with the requirement to sort and assess in a competent way the permanent and omnipresent flood of medical data.
F.A.Z.: The “Teens4Kids“ initiative has now successfully been realised for the second time. What comes next?
Prof. Assmann: In the framework of the succeeding competition we will turn towards one of the countries south of the Sahara, a region where the need is greatest and where hidden hunger is rather increasing despite all the international help. The way hidden hunger manifests itself differs from region to region. Therefore, the plan is to contact local students as well as students in Germany who come from the developing countries concerned in order to develop creative ideas on the basis of their regional knowledge and experience aiming at the containment of micronutrient deficiency in their home countries. German students will also be invited to play an active role. If we succeed in confronting hidden hunger in its regionally specific manifestation through intelligent, preventive solution approaches, we could hopefully save human lives and sustainably improve development opportunities. In the long run, however, the project will exceed the per-formance spectrum of our foundation despite the cooperation with our strong partner Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung. Monocultures, the climate change, corruption, civil wars, existential uncertainties regarding the management of land, an unexpectedly high and rapid population growth in Africa are just a few factors that will conceivably prevent micronutrient deficiencies from being sustainably reduced despite biofortification and supplementation. The biggest potential is likely to be found in research funding in order to better understand how defined diet components such as micronutrients influence molecular target structures of the genome and the cell and to develop innovative nutrition concepts on that basis, in order to maintain health and avoid diet-related diseases. Saving lives through research and information is the guiding principle and long-term objective of our Foundation.