*Worse than unsafe sex, drug abuse, alcohol and tobacco use combined
What could be worse for your health and wellbeing than unsafe sex, alcohol dependence, drug abuse and tobacco use? Researches say poor nutrition could be more hazardous to health that all of the listed factors put together. Already, an estimated three billion people across 193 countries have low-quality diets, which contribute to poor nutrition and health outcomes, while also slowing growth and development. A new report by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition – an independent group of influential experts with a commitment to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security – says that the burden of malnutrition is equivalent to that of experiencing a global financial crisis every year. The report entitled: “Food Systems and Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st Century” outlines the toll that malnutrition takes on individuals and nations today, while also forecasting the expanding costs and consequences if these trends continue.
Toll of malnutrition
The report, launched last week by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), gives guidelines for governments and decision-makers to change course through action and investment to create food systems that promote health and deliver quality diets. Noting that sale of ultra-processed food and beverages rose from one-third of those in high income countries in 2000 to more than half by 2016, the report remarks that today’s food systems are too focused on quantity and not enough on quality. It points out that low-quality diets are a driving force in increasing rates of overweight, obesity and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, while also fueling non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Already there are concerns that without immediate action, the situation is set to worsen dramatically over the next 20 years as population growth, climate change and urbanization converge on food systems. Without significant changes in policies and investments by 2030, the number of overweight and obese people will have increased from 1.33 billion in 2005 to 3.28 billion, or one-third of the projected global population.
In a reaction to the development, former President of Ghana and co-chair of the Global Panel, John Kufuor, says nutrition is not about just feeding people, but about powering life and the growth of individuals, communities and nations. “If we do not reshape food systems to prioritize nutrition, we are missing an opportunity to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous future,” Kuffor stated. President of the African Development Bank and member of the Global Panel,Dr. Akinwumi Adesina argues that nutrition is not just a health and social development issue, but an investment that can spur economic growth. “We must rethink how we look at nutrition and food systems. Nutrition fuels grey matter infrastructure—the minds of the next generation that will drive progress and innovation.” Former UK Chief Scientific Advisor and co-chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, Sir John Beddington, stated: “The level of effort required to address this problem is not dissimilar to fervor with which the international community confronted HIV/AIDS, malaria and other pandemic diseases. If we do not act, we will fail to unleash the full potential of millions of people around the world,” he warned Report Author and Chair of the Project’s Lead Expert Group, Lawrence Haddad, says the world’s food systems are failing. “The foods that are produced, affordable and chosen have been changing fast and will continue to do so. Now is the time to take action to ensure that food systems and nutrition are helping to power fuel development—not hold it back.”
Income vs hunger
Data from the report shows that while income growth can help to alleviate hunger, it does not guarantee accessibility to healthier, quality diets. While many people today have better diets than before, the intake of foods that undermine diet quality has increased even faster. The report calls for food systems to be at the centre of global action, including the Sustainable Development Goals, observing that while policy must be tailored to meet country needs, priority actions at the global and national levels should also include prioritization in other areas.