Worldwide, around 870 million people are undernourished, lacking essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A. Although not always facing acute hunger, the health of these people is seriously affected. "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)At the same time, the number of overweight or obese adults has considerably exceeded the number suffering from hunger. Being overweight is a major cause of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and cancer. Together, undernutrition, obesity and malnutrition are responsible for almost all preventable diseases and health problems. Their common cause is the separation and disconnection of food production from consumption. It is essential to re-establish these links at all levels in order to bring food providers and consumers closer together.

The World Map of Over-nutrition

Worldwide, 1.4 billion people are overweight; approximately one third of them are obese. Over the past decades, this "global epidemic", as termed by the WHO, has been spreading rapidly, not only in industrialised nations but also increasingly in transition economies and developing countries."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) The IAASTD shows that agriculture and nutrition form the most important basis for human health. They are also a major cause of disease, in both rich and poor countries. Healthy diets, safe methods of food production and sustainable agriculture could prevent millions of people from suffering, as well as premature death. These are also decisive factors for economic upturn in developing countries and a key way to reduce escalating costs in the healthcare systems of industrialised countries. >>more

Facts & Figures

According to the latest WHO estimates, 1.4 billion people aged 20 or above were overweight in 2008. Of this number, more than 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese. In 2012, more than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese.

Around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. In addition, 44% of the diabetes burden, 23% of the ischaemic heart disease burden and between 7% and 41% of certain cancer burdens are attributable to overweight and obesity.

Our food systems have failed to address hunger and encourage diets that are a source of obesity. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has made a series of recommendations including: 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.

2 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.

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 2012, there were an estimated 450,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) detected worldwide. An estimated 170,000 deaths were caused by MDR-TB in 2012.

Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. In 2012, this lead to about 207 million malaria cases and an estimated 627,000 deaths. Malaria mortality rates have fallen by 42% globally since 2000. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.


Civil Society

  • Slow Food NGO which wants to counter the rise of fast food and fast life and the disappear- ance of local food traditions
  • PAN Pesticide Action Network North America works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecological alternatives
  • Center for Food Safety non-profit organisation campaigning against harmful food production technologies
  • Food Tank is focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters
  • Food Insight is dedicated to the mission of communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety
  • EWG Environmental Working Group offers research on chemicals in our food
  • Sustainable Table celebrates local sustainable food and educates consumers on food-related issues
  • Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced
  • Soil Association is part of the The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics which is working to stop the over-use of antibiotics in animal farming


Videos: Health

Interview with the director of Food Inc. and clips from the film

Trailer of Our Daily Poison


  • UNEP safe drinking waterUNEP safe drinking water
  • UNEP Health EconomyUNEP Health Economy
  • UNEP Malaria Climate ChangeUNEP Malaria Climate Change
  • UNEP Population improved SanitationUNEP Population improved Sanitation
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Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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