Hidden hunger, or malnutrition, affects more than 2 billion people in the world and 24.3 % of the European population under the age of 5. To combat this situation, Fundación MAPFRE is supporting an initiative to develop a super cookie, a food product that guarantees 50 % of the vitamins and minerals a person needs every day.
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL
Data from the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, paints a pretty clear picture of the situation: an estimated 690 million people worldwide are suffering from hunger, in other words 8.9 % of the world’s population Over the last five years this figure has climbed by 60 million. And we are talking about numbers provided by the organization in the summer of 2020, which does not take into account the true extent of malnutrition in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hunger is not the only serious problem affecting the population in terms of food. The so-called hidden hunger, or malnutrition, affects more than 2 billion people worldwide, including 24.3% of the European population under 5 years of age, and refers to the situation of people whose energy intake is inadequate. In other words, they do not get enough micronutrients, like vitamins A and D, iron and zinc. Spain, in particular, is one of the European Union countries with the highest rates of child malnutrition, with the resulting impact this has on the development and growth of the children.
Aware of this extremely critical situation, Fundación MAPFRE wanted to get involved in the search for solutions. And it found one through which it could contribute to improving child nutrition, an issue of particular importance to the institution, as Daniel Restrepo Manrique, director of Social Action at Fundación MAPFRE, explains: “We heard about the development of a nutritional cookie by the Siro Group. We realized that a product with these characteristics could be extremely useful in making up for these nutritional deficiencies in a fast and effective way, and very affordably. So, we set up a pilot project in Spain where, fortunately, there is no malnutrition, but there is hidden hunger, especially after the pandemic.” And so began the foundation’s collaboration with the Super Cookie or Nutritional Cookie. Specifically, Fundación MAPFRE has accelerated and funded the initiative, supporting the pilot experience in Spain. But it did not want to stop there, and it has also “become the international outreach facilitator.”
It is a cookie like no other
But what makes this cookie so special? Its main characteristic is that it guarantees 50 % of the vitamins and minerals a person needs every day, because it contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, D and E and folic acid, as well as proteins, calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine and a high fiber content. This means that for just 30 centimes, which what 100 grams of the product costs, people can receive an important nutritional boost. In its development and manufacture, a complex process lasting more than two years, Grupo Siro’s R&D department have used wholemeal flours, high oleic sunflower oil, and salt and sugar quantities below the critical limit stipulated by the WHO, enabling it to obtain a Nutriscore A rating.
In the first campaign, a total of two million super cookies were distributed in Spain and Portugal with the aim of helping to cover the nutritional deficiencies of 20,000 families with dietary shortcomings. Next came the move beyond our borders. First in Guatemala, where the Siro Group Foundation has already donated a total of 40,000 kilos of nutritional cookies. This Latin American country was selected due to the fact that, currently, almost half of the children under five years of age there suffer from chronic malnutrition, meaning Guatemala tops the ranking of Latin American countries and is the fourth most malnourished in the world, according to UNICEF data.
A product with these characteristics could be extremely useful in making up for these nutritional deficiencies in a fast and effective way, and very affordably
This collaboration has also resulted in the launch of a clinical study led by Fundación de Investigación HM Hospitales, in collaboration with Cáritas Arquidiocesana de Guatemala and Digisalud. This research will be carried out on a cohort of 200 children aged between 3 and 6 who will receive this cookie, and the data will help to determine “exactly how effective the cookie is in the fight against malnutrition. Our idea for the future is to distribute this cookie free of charge in our International Social Projects”, says Restrepo. And he confirms: “We are now going to distribute another 30 tons of nutritional cookies in Venezuela and Mexico.”
Both Fundación MAPFRE and Fundación Grupo Siro are aware of the potential of the Nutritional Cookie. Daniel Restrepo explains: “There are are similar products in the world, although they are much more locally oriented. This cookie can be a great help for many people as a high-quality food supplement. It is easily transportable and preservable, and has a very low cost compared to other supplements of a similar nature. The nutritional cookie can only be donated, so access to it is completely free of charge for users who need it.” In fact, it is not available for sale to the public, which guarantees that it cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Fully guaranteed distribution
When Fundación MAPFRE and Fundación Grupo Siro considered distributing the Nutritional Cookie in Spain, they wanted to collaborate with an institution that understood how to solve the challenges involved in this task: the Federación Española de Bancos de Alimentos (FESBAL), the Spanish food bank federation. This non-profit organization is well aware of the poverty suffered in Spain. Agustín Vidal Aragón de Olives, president of the Fundación Banco de Alimentos de Sevilla, the Seville Food Bank Foundation, explains: “The situation in our country with respect to malnutrition levels is both complex and worrying, at least for our Foundation. According to the AROPE indicator, 26.4 % of the Spanish population is currently at risk of poverty, and this directly affects the possibility of accessing food resources. For many people this will be surprising, but it is true that at the Banco de Alimentos de Sevilla we see it every day, since currently 45,000 people need our help.” The matter becomes even more serious if we talk about child malnutrition: “According to the latest report from the UN Children’s Fund, 1 out of every 3 children under 3 years of age in the world does not receive adequate food for their proper development. For this reason, at the Food Bank we are not only concerned that they have enough to eat, but that the food that reaches them is healthy and in the quantities they should be consuming.” And there is an additional problem: hidden hunger, which “generates problems such as delayed growth and development, cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes in children. For instance, 35 % of the child population in Spain is obese.”
Spain, in particular, is one of the European Union countries with the highest rates of child malnutrition, with the resulting impact this has on the development and growth of the children
The fact that this situation worsened with the pandemic cannot be ignored, as Vidal Aragón de Olives points out: “It is true that before the pandemic there were already some very vulnerable sectors of the population in which this problem was chronic, but as a result of COVID-19 new groups have appeared that have increased the number of people affected. Reflecting this situation, during the peak months of the pandemic, the Food Bank experienced a 25 % increase in its beneficiaries, reaching more than 62,000 people.” The figures, as always, bring us back down to earth.