Heather Munroe-Blum
  Ted Chamberlin
Susan Horton
Molly Shoichet
  Great Minds,No Walls
  Tim Rowley
Aled Edwards
  Helen Hogg

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Improving nutrition in Asia's poorest countries

In Asia's low-income regions, 2.8 million children die from malnutrition each year, accounting for 51% of childhood deaths worldwide. This startling statistic has prompted the Asian Development Bank to find effective ways of overcoming the growing problem. Susan Horton, professor of economics and supervisor of studies in the International Development Studies program at U of T at Scarborough, is one of several researchers from around the world working on this project.

Horton's role is to estimate the economic impact of malnourishment in children and pregnant women, and to make recommendations on cost-effective methods of providing the essential vitamins and minerals.

The project adopts a systematic approach by focusing on specific regions and aiming to generate useful public policy in the affected countries. The work has taken Horton across the globe to investigate conditions in nine countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Over the past three years, Horton has investigated the social and economic costs of malnutrition in women and children in these countries and the resulting deaths and losses in productivity, and then analyzed the relatively low costs of nutritional intervention needed to reduce the deficiencies. Her resulting recommendations include ãmicronutrient fortificationä as one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of improving nutritional health in these countries. This process involves fortifying staples such as wheat, salt, vegetable oil and soy sauce with crucial vitamins and minerals ÷ vitamin A, iodine and iron in particular ÷ that are scarce in the diet of people in several low-income regions in Asia.

Some of the research team's recommendations are already having an impact. Vietnam, for example, has accepted micronutrient fortification as part of its national nutrition planning and is seeking funding to carry out the program.

The Asian Development Bank is coordinating an international donor effort to generate funding for these initiatives, and will devote the next issue of its journal, Asian Development Review, to the papers developed from this ongoing study. Canada is at the forefront of micronutrient work worldwide, which has only received attention from international agencies in the last five years.

International Development Studies is one of five co-op programs at U of T at Scarborough and the only such Canadian program that provides a fully-funded placement of students in a developing country. The program spans a broad range of disciplines, including environmental sciences, geography, anthropology, and political science. Faculty working in the program research a variety of topics, such as the politics of religion in the Middle East, management of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Latin America, soil erosion in Kenya and Mexico, women's labour in China, and economic reform in Cuba.

- Althea Blackburn Evans

University of Toronto