The phrase ‘feed the world’ denotes an unchallengeable imperative, doesn’t it? But what if the phrase itself is distracting us from acknowledging the biggest global health problem of them all?
That’s a question that a group of food policy experts say we should urgently be asking ourselves. And in a commentary published in the journal Nature they argue that we should shift the focus on feeding people calories to nourishing people with healthy diets.
The authors say that diet is now the “number one risk factor” for disease in the world and that poor diets are responsible for more ill health than sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco combined. And while nearly eight billion people in the world are hungry, two billion people are either overweight or obese.
One of the authors, Lawrence Haddad, executive director for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Gain) says the world is “blind” to the bigger problem. He told the BBC: “We estimate that one-in-three people have really poor diets. This is causing a whole host of malnutrition problems that has massive health consequences as well as economic consequences.
He added: “Instead of feeding the world, we need to think about nourishing the world.
“Instead of feeding the world, we need to think about nourishing the world”
The authors of the Nature article warn that “middle- and low-income countries are now following the well-worn, highly damaging path from undernutrition to obesity”. Similarly, access to locally produced healthier food is now being disrupted by a global food system dominated by a small number of powerful companies. A direct consequence, the authors say, is that “processed foods and sugar-laden beverages are found in remote areas of Nepal and Ethiopia; a choice of vegetables, fruits and fish is not”.
“Processed foods and sugar-laden beverages are found in remote areas of Nepal and Ethiopia; a choice of vegetables, fruits and fish is not”
A major challenge in addressing the problem is a lack of data, says Haddad. “We only have a clue that our diets are so terrible because of the outcomes, because there is so much micronutrient malnutrition and calorie deficiency, and obesity.” He says that improving “food metrics” is one of first things needed in order to shift global food policy to a sustainable footing.
Haddad told the BBC that “delegates to the upcoming G20 and G7 meetings in 2017 should take collective responsibility for our failing food system”.
Picture: ‘Empty calories’ are making billions of people obese, food policy and health experts warn