Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50568. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050568. Epub 2012 Nov 29.


Background: Adequate zinc nutrition is essential for adequate growth, immunocompetence and neurobehavioral development, but limited information on population zinc status hinders the expansion of interventions to control zinc deficiency. The present analyses were conducted to: (1) estimate the country-specific prevalence of inadequate zinc intake; and (2) investigate relationships between country-specific estimated prevalence of dietary zinc inadequacy and dietary patterns and stunting prevalence.

Methodology and principal findings: National food balance sheet data were obtained from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Country-specific estimated prevalence of inadequate zinc intake were calculated based on the estimated absorbable zinc content of the national food supply, International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group estimated physiological requirements for absorbed zinc, and demographic data obtained from United Nations estimates. Stunting data were obtained from a recent systematic analysis based on World Health Organization growth standards. An estimated 17.3% of the world's population is at risk of inadequate zinc intake. Country-specific estimated prevalence of inadequate zinc intake was negatively correlated with the total energy and zinc contents of the national food supply and the percent of zinc obtained from animal source foods, and positively correlated with the phytate: zinc molar ratio of the food supply. The estimated prevalence of inadequate zinc intake was correlated with the prevalence of stunting (low height-for-age) in children under five years of age (r = 0.48, P<0.001).

Conclusions and significance: These results, which indicate that inadequate dietary zinc intake may be fairly common, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, allow inter-country comparisons regarding the relative likelihood of zinc deficiency as a public health problem. Data from these analyses should be used to determine the need for direct biochemical and dietary assessments of population zinc status, as part of nationally representative nutritional surveys targeting countries estimated to be at high risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Food Supply / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Status
  • Phytic Acid / analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Zinc / analysis*
  • Zinc / deficiency*


  • Phytic Acid
  • Zinc

Grant support

This research was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.