Sunshine in a Loaf: Curbing Vitamin D Deficiency in the Middle East
June 9, 2010
Bread in Jordan will soon be delicious and nutritious. Last month, Jordan’s health ministry launched a plan to fortify domestically produced bread with vitamin D in an effort to curb the country’s staggering rates of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is essential for metabolizing calcium and, by extension, for skeletal health. Humans derive 80 to 90 percent of their vitamin D intake from sunlight, but despite the region’s generally sunny climate, Middle Eastern countries have some of the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency in the world.
Middle Eastern women are especially susceptible because many often remain home and wear garments outside that substantially cover their skin. A study conducted last year in Jordan found almost three quarters of women are deficient in vitamin D, more than three times the rate for men.
Sustained vitamin D deficiency leads to diseases such as osteoporosis that impose long-term costs on societies. The short-term effects of nutritional deficiencies are also costly. In 2007, the World Bank estimated that health costs and productivity losses from micronutrient deficiencies represented 5 percent of Morocco’s GDP.
Middle Eastern governments have begun to take heed of these consequences: twelve MENA countries have implemented laws mandating that flour be fortified with iron and folic acid, and Jordan’s health ministry recently doubled the budget for its food fortification program.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.