Health: Food or Cause of Illness?
In the first place, hunger is a lack of calories. A healthy diet, however, does not only consist of enough energy but also a balanced mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats as well as a large variety of essential micronutrients, such as iron, zinc, iodine, minerals and vitamins."Although the world food system provides an adequate supply of protein and energy for over 85% of people, only two-thirds have access to sufficient dietary micronutrients. The supply of many nutrients in the diets of the poor has decreased due to a reduction in diet diversity resulting from increased monoculture of staple food crops (rice, wheat, and maize) and the loss of a range of nutrient dense food crops from local food systems." (Synthesis, p. 54)Worldwide, two billion people are suffering from one or even several micronutrient deficiencies, with often fatal consequences. Short-term emergency measures, such as distributing vitamin A to pregnant women and infants, can save lives in acute cases and alleviate symptoms. Adding micronutrients to foods can also help. The key to a balanced and healthy diet, however, lies in the cultivation and consumption of a range of plants and other products with different vitamins and minerals, as well as in a way of processing food that preserves the quality of its ingredients. This holds true for both the food self-sufficiency in rural areas and highly processed foods in urban supermarkets.
Malnutrition and obesity
In 2014, 1.9 billion people worldwide were overweight; approximately one third of them were obese. Over the past decades, this "global epidemic", as it is called by the WHO, has been spreading rapidly. A major driver of being overweight or obese is the consumption of energy-dense foods in combination with a lack of physical activity. In 1980, just one in four of all adults was overweight; in 2014, 39% of the world population was affected, not only in industrialised nations but also in emerging economies and developing countries. Being overweight is considered a major cause of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and certain cancers."A focus on increased production and food security rather than diet quality has contributed to a rise in obesity worldwide and the double burden of under- and overnutrition in developing countries" (Global, p. 196)
Facts & Figures
According to the latest WHO estimates, 1.9 billion people aged 18 or above were overweight in 2014. Of this number, more than 600 million people were obese. The worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. In 2014, more than 41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012.
If current trends continue, 2.7 billion adults worldwide will be overweight or obese by 2025. 17% of the world's adults or almost 1 billion people are projected to be obese by 2025. On current trends, 177 million adults will be severely obese with a BMI above 35 and in need of treatment.
Our food systems have failed to address hunger and encourage diets that are a source of obesity. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has made a series of recommendations that include: taxing unhealthy products; regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar; cracking down on junk food advertising; overhauling agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper and supporting local food production, so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.
More than half of all adults in OECD countries, and one in five children, are overweight or obese. In India, China and Japan, under 4% were obese in 2012, whilst in the United States the figure reached 35.3%, followed by Mexico with 32.4%. In 2013, Mexico launched a comprehensive strategy to address the problem, including awareness-raising, health care, regulatory and fiscal measures.
According to the WHO, an estimated 250 million pre-school children are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. It is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas, a large proportion of pregnant women are affected. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
Two billion people worldwide suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. 31% of all children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. 68% of children under five in Sub-Saharan Africa and 66.5% in South Asia are iron-deficient. Iron-deficiency anaemia negatively affects the cognitive development of children, pregnancy outcomes, maternal mortality and the work capacity of adults.
Zoonoses are diseases transmitted between animals and humans. Around 60% of all human diseases and 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. 56 zoonoses together are responsible for an estimated 2.7 million human deaths and 2.5 billion cases of human illness a year. For the top 13 zoonoses, the figures were 2.2 million human deaths and 2.4 billion cases of illness.
According to a report by the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning, and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security.
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in. Of the total estimated 335,000 fatal workplace accidents occurring worldwide each year, some 170,000 involve agricultural workers. Machinery, such as tractors and harvesters, is the biggest cause of injury. The use of pesticides results in around 70,000 poisoning-related deaths each year, as well as at least seven million cases of acute and long-term non fatal illness.
Agriculture remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found. Worldwide, 59% of all child labourers in the age group 5-17 years work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, aquaculture, forestry, and livestock. In 2012, this amounted to over 98 million girls and boys.
Antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics is a growing problem. In 2015, there were an estimated 480,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) detected worldwide. Three countries carry the major burden of MDR-TB – India, China, and the Russian Federation – which together account for nearly half of all cases globally.
Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. In 2015, this led to about 212 million malaria cases and an estimated 429,000 deaths. Between 2010 and 2015, malaria incidence among populations at risk fell by 21% globally. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.