Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Combating Hunger and Malnutrition: Are Eggs the Answer?

Even I, a vegan, can’t deny the health benefits of eggs. Vegan or not, anyone can agree that eggs have immense potential to improve nutrition and decrease hunger in developing countries. Eggs are incredibly easy sources of protein and also provide calcium, vitamins, fatty acids, minerals and other bioactive compounds that can improve brain development in children (Lutter at al. 2018). However, while I agree that eggs should be highly considered as a tool to improve health in developing regions, I argue that more research should be conducted in order to ensure that increasing egg consumption does not jeopardize the wellbeing of animals or the environment.

Yes, it is true that many foods are high in protein and nutrients. However, eggs are uniquely valuable because they are naturally packaged in a neat little shell. Eggs can also be cooked easily and incorporated into a wide variety of dishes. This means that eggs can likely be integrated into traditional cultural dishes with minimal effort.

Although eggs contain so much potential within their little shells, egg consumption is extremely low in developing countries. Compared to developed countries, where eggs can be purchased cheaply, eggs tend to be expensive and uncommon in developing countries (Morris et al. 2018). Many contributors to a recent FAO Global Food Security and Nutrition Forum pointed to the cost of chicken feed as the main reason why eggs are so expensive in developing nations. Additionally, some also highlighted the fact that eggs are taboo in certain regions due to a belief that eggs are high in cholesterol and are linked to cardiovascular disease.

Because eggs can, to some extent, offer a solution to hunger and malnutrition in developing regions, extension agents, governments, the private sector and other actors should work together to decrease the cost of eggs and promote egg consumption.

One example of how to increase egg consumption and consequently improve the nutrition of children is for governments to promote “an egg a day.” India experimented with an “an egg a day” program that mandated all schools to provide a mid-day egg to each student every school day with the intent of improving child health. This way, regardless of income, each child who attends school is provided with a source of protein and other key nutrients. This can also help increase school attendance and child academic performance. Moreover, this program can be a model for other governments and can demonstrate that improving child health via eggs is worth state investment.  

As for something that extension agents can facilitate, rather than governments, another key way to promote the consumption of eggs in women and children is to target women through educational trainings centered on cooking and nutrition. Since women often have the gendered social role of providing food for their families, workshops could teach women the nutritional benefits of eggs and also how to cook eggs in local dishes. This might be an effective way to increase the demand for eggs and incorporate them into local norms, though the problem of high cost still remains.

The FAO Forum offered up a few ideas for solutions to combat the high cost of chicken feed that makes eggs expensive to purchase. Several people noted that innovative methods  such as converting food waste into chicken feed or switching to locally-available feed, such as sweet potatoes  might lower this input cost. Additionally, there is also a strong argument that governments should recognize the important influence they can have on improving nutrition and public health and therefore subsidize egg production.

All in all, I don’t believe that eggs can or should be the entire solution, but I do believe that eggs can be extremely helpful in combatting malnutrition and hunger in developing regions. Egg production could potentially generate negative environmental or animal welfare impacts, and it is important not to put all our eggs in one basket (pun intended) and rely on merely one strategy. Much more research should be done in order to ensure that neither the environment nor the wellbeing of animals is sacrificed for human benefit. This would not be a sustainable or ethical answer to the problem.

We must develop strategies that can be sustained in the long-term, with as little to no negative repercussions as possible. With that said, eggs should definitely be highly considered in developing regions because they can be easily incorporated into local dishes, offering an effective way to bring their valuable protein and nutrients to those suffering from malnutrition and hunger. If even a vegan is convinced that eggs have unique value, they really must be worth consideration.

For more information, check out this recent journal issue and this FAO forum both centered on eggs and nutrition.

References:

  • Lutter, Chessa K., et al. “The Potential of a Simple Egg to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition.” Maternal & Child Nutrition, vol. 14, no. S3, 17 Oct. 2018, doi:10.1111/mcn.12678.
  • Morris, Saul S., et al. “An Egg for Everyone: Pathways to Universal Access to One of Nature's Most Nutritious Foods.” Eggs: A High Potential Food for Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition, vol. 14, no. S3, 17 Oct. 2018.

Comments

Andrea,

Thank you for an interesting post and links to a series of highly relevant papers. At the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems at the University of Florida, we have been well aware of the potential of eggs to improve child nutrition, as well as the potential negative impacts related to zoonotic spread of bacteria, specifically Campylobacter spp. We are currently finalizing formative research for the CAGED project. The results will support a decision to go ahead with an intervention trial, aiming to provide families with chickens supported by intensive traing on animal management, nutrition and hygiene. One treatment arm will also include caging chickens to reduce exposure of young children to chickens or their droppings. More information is available at http://livestocklab.ifas.ufl.edu/projects/caged-project/.