Food systems need overhaul for healthy diets, says report

Global panel also underlines the irreversible impact on the environment of existing food systems.

Food systems in low- and middle-income group countries need an overhaul to ensure healthy and sustainable diets at affordable prices, urges a new report launched on Tuesday by the Global Panel on Agricultural and Food Systems for Nutrition.

“An estimated 26% of the world’s population experienced hunger or did not have regular access to nutrient-rich and sufficient food in 2019. Sub-optimal diets are now responsible for 20% of premature (disease-mediated) mortality worldwide, as well as for 20% of all disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). The outcome is rapidly escalating pressure on healthcare systems which are facing an epidemic of diet-related diseases — including stroke, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” it says.

Further, most countries lag in achieving nutrition targets set for 2025 by the World Health Assembly; countries carrying the greatest burden of stunting will miss the goal of reducing stunting by 40% between 2010 and 2025; no country is on target to achieve a 50% reduction in anaemia among women by 2025; and childhood obesity is widespread.

The report also underlines the irreversible impact on the environment of existing food systems, which account for 28% of anthropomorphic sources of greenhouse gas emission, 70% of freshwater use, and degradation of 25% of the globe’s cultivated land area.

The report proposes ways to ensure production of the right mix of foods in sufficient quantities to deliver sustainable, healthy diets. The suggestions including rebalancing of public sector subsidies; public agricultural research and development from a commodity focus to a food-systems focus and increasing funding; and lastly, rebalancing food production systems to achieve sustainable and healthy diets.

The Global Panel is an independent group of experts and leaders who hold or have held high office and who show strong personal commitment to improving nutrition. The panel is co-chaired by the former President of Ghana John Kufuor and the former chief scientific advisor to the U.K. government Sir John Beddington. It also includes Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India.

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