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Nutrient excesses

It is perhaps unnecessary to emphasize that dietary deficiencies should not and cannot be corrected by excessive nutrient intakes. Too much vitamin A produces some of the same symptoms as its deficiency and can be fatal [167]. China has a tremendous problem of foetal damage due to iodine deficiency during pregnancy, and at the same time there are local areas in which an excess of iodine elicits somewhat similar symptoms [145, 168]. A large excess of iron can overburden the liver and cause serious disease. In severely malnourished individuals a sudden large parenteral or oral dose of iron can lead to overwhelming infection [169-171]. This is because iron is made available for the replication of the infectious agent at a time when the immune system of the individual is severely compromised.

While the subject is beyond the scope of this paper, it should that the dietary excesses of affluent societies also have their health costs [172]. Coronary heart disease is rare in populations with dietary fat intakes below 25% of total calories and increases progressively as the percentage of fat calories rises. This is particularly the case when these come increasingly from foods of animal origin, in which most of the fat is saturated and cholesterol is relatively high. The diseases exacerbated by such dietary excesses include not only hypertension, coronary heart disease, and type-two diabetes but also some forms of cancer, particularly those of the colon, prostate, and breast [173]. Smoking, lack of exercise, overweight, and frank obesity increase the health risk.

It is, therefore, no longer enough for countries to have policies and programmes to eliminate hidden hunger. They must also design their nutrition education and other food and nutrition activities to avoid replacing the problems of undernutrition with the diseases exacerbated by food excess. However, this must not weaken the focus on eliminating hidden hunger.

Our obligation to the human future

This paper has focused on freedom from hunger, both hidden and overt, as the most fundamental of human rights. There are also the very real problems of environmental pollution and destruction, global warming, loss of germ plasm, and a rate of human reproduction that exacerbates all of these. Conquering hunger will release human potential for creating better societies. However, achieving the other rights of shelter, education, and hope for the future will not follow automatically unless governments implement appropriate polices.

While the reduction in child mortality that follows the alleviation of hunger is a prerequisite to fertility reduction, successful fertility reduction also requires education, economic opportunity, and a potential advantage to having fewer children. Success in lowering, and eventually stabilizing, population growth is essential to the permanent solution of all of the other problems, including environmental deterioration, food supplies for the poor in developing countries, global warming, civil disturbances, and wars.

There is now evidence from a number of countries that the conquest of hunger is possible even before poverty can be eliminated. This is all the more reason to recognize that solving all of the physical and biological problems will still have little meaning if the social problems of poverty, misery, and lack of hope persist for any substantial proportion of the world's population. When we work for adequate feeding of the world's population, we must recognize that the sustained conquest of hunger will also require overcoming exponential population growth, the avoidance of global warming and environmental destruction, the cessation of war, and maintenance of societies that give their citizens dignity and hope.

The physical, biological, and social problems humankind is facing are caused by human activity, and they can be solved by human actions if we avoid further delay. All those concerned with the human food chain from production to consumption whose collective efforts are recognized by the World Food Prize have their own formidable tasks. In addition, they must also be effective partners in the efforts of other disciplines to assure the future of human society in a sustainable environment in which it can flourish.

Finally, in the words of Gabriel Mistral:

Many things we need can wait.
The child cannot.
Right now is the time his bones are being formed,
his blood is being made and
his senses are being developed.
To him we cannot answer—"Tomorrow."
His name is today.


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