Zinc is one of the essential trace elements required by the human body as it is present in more than a hundred specific enzymes and serves as an important structural ion in transcription factors. Around one third of the world population lives in countries with a high prevalence of zinc deficiency. Food fortification with zinc seems to be an attractive public health strategy and a number of programs have been initiated, especially in developing countries. We conducted a systematic review to assess the efficacy of zinc fortification. A total of 11 studies with 771 participants were included in our analysis. Zinc fortification was associated with significant improvements in plasma zinc concentrations [standard mean difference (SMD) 1.28, 95% CI 0.56, 2.01] which is a functional indicator of zinc status. Significant improvement was observed for height velocity (SMD 0.52, 95% CI 0.01, 1.04); however, this finding was weak and based on a restricted analysis. Further subgroup analysis showed significant improvement in height velocity among very-low-birth-weight infants (SMD 0.70, 95% CI 0.02, 1.37), while for healthy newborns, the impact was insignificant. Zinc fortification had insignificant impacts on serum alkaline levels, serum copper levels, hemoglobin and weight gain. Although the findings highlight that zinc fortification is associated with an increased serum concentration of the micronutrient, overall evidence of the effectiveness of this approach is limited. Data on pregnant and lactating women is scarce. Large-scale fortification programs with robust impact assessment should be initiated to cover larger populations in all age groups. Mass fortification of zinc may be a cost-effective strategy to overcome zinc deficiency.

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