News ID: 169250
Published: 0242 GMT September 25, 2016

Poor diet risks health of half the world

Poor diet risks health of half the world

Poor diets are undermining the health of one in three of the world's people, an independent panel of food and agriculture experts has warned.

The report said under-nourishment is stunting the growth of nearly a quarter of children under five, BBC wrote.

And by 2030 a third of the population could be overweight or obese.

The report by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition is being presented to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

The panel — which is led by the former President of Ghana John Kufuor and the former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government Sir John Beddington — said two billion people lack the range of vitamins and minerals in their diet needed to keep them healthy.

The result is an increase in heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses that undermines productivity and threatens to overwhelm health services.

These non-infectious, chronic diseases have been associated with the fatty, highly processed diet of the developed world. But most new cases are appearing in developing countries.

The panel has warned that on current trends the situation will get far worse in the next 20 years.

It said only a global effort similar to that used to tackle HIV or malaria would be enough to meet the challenge.

According to the panel, child and maternal malnutrition, high blood pressure and other diet-related risks each cost more life-years than smoking, air pollution and poor sanitation.

Great progress has been made in reducing under-nourishment, but 800 million people still experience hunger on a daily basis.

Under nourishment is starkly apparent in the rate of stunting among children.

A quarter of those aged under five have diminished physical and mental capacities. Under-nourished women are giving birth to babies with lifelong impairments.

One of the report's authors, Professor Lawrence Haddad of the International Food Policy Research Institute, cites Guatemala, where more than 40 percent of children are short for their age.

"It's partly driven by inequality", he said. "People on higher incomes have better food and very low rates of stunting. Low income groups eat a diet based on maize (corn), but they don't get enough vegetables, fruit, dairy food or protein such as that found in chicken."

The Global Panel's director, Professor  Sandy Thomas, said it's a similar story in many low and middle income countries, and poor physical condition leads directly to low productivity.

"One or two African countries have had big successes with agriculture. In Rwanda growing iron-rich beans has helped reduce anemia among women - but across the world anemia is decreasing very slowly."

In a foreword to the report, James Wharton, a minister in the UK's Department for International Development said the costs of undernutrition in terms of lost national productivity are significant, with between three and 16 percent of GDP lost annually in Africa and Asia.

Overall the losses have been about 10 percent of GDP, equivalent to the effect of the global financial crisis on a continuous basis.

Attempts to combat under-nutrition have sometimes focused on increasing calories at the expense of improving overall diet.

Many countries have moved rapidly from widespread under-nutrition to a serious problem with obesity.

In China, where diets have changed rapidly in recent years, half the population is projected to be overweight or obese by 2030.

Globally, estimates suggest that the number of overweight and obese people will have grown from 1.3 billion in 2005, to 3.3 billion — about a third of the population.

Although some problems are alleviated by economic development, diets can, and often are, deteriorating as countries become richer.

The panel reports that although people are eating more fruit and vegetables, the effect is being eclipsed by increasing consumption of low-quality food.

Urbanization is leading many more people to eat diets dominated by processed food, including street food high in saturated fat and salt, and carrying an increased risk of adulteration and infection.

Haddad said the concentration of people in cities also attracts food companies and supermarkets.

"Highly processed food with long shelf life, high in calories but low in nutritional value, maximizes profit," he said. "Supermarket buyers are some of the most powerful determiners of national diet." 

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