Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

The Rank Prize Lecture

Zinc: the missing link in combating micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries

Rosalind S. Gibsona1 c1

a1 Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand


The first cases of human Zn deficiency were described in the 1960s in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it was not until 2002 that Zn deficiency was included as a major risk factor in the global burden of disease, and only in 2004 did WHO/UNICEF include Zn supplements in the treatment of acute diarrhoea. Despite this recognition Zn is still not included in the UN micronutrient priority list, an omission that will continue to hinder efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals for improved nutrition in developing countries. Reasons for this omission include a lack of awareness of the importance of Zn in human nutrition, paucity of Zn and phytate food composition values and difficulties in identifying Zn deficiency. Major factors associated with the aetiology of Zn deficiency include dietary inadequacies, disease states inducing excessive losses or impairing utilization and physiological states increasing Zn requirements. To categorize countries according to likely risk of Zn deficiency the International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group has developed indirect indicators based on the adequacy of Zn in the national food supplies and/or prevalence of childhood growth stunting. For countries identified as at risk confirmation is required through direct measurements of dietary Zn intake and/or serum Zn in a representative sample. Finally, in at risk countries either national or targeted Zn interventions such as supplementation, fortification, dietary diversification or modification, or biofortification should be implemented, where appropriate, by incorporating them into pre-existing micronutrient intervention programmes.