Poor nutrition is a bigger public health threat than we thought, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA).
In a report released Wednesday titled “Preventing nutrient loss and waste across the food system: Policy actions for high-quality diets,” researchers found that eating poor-quality food has become a greater health threat than malaria, tuberculosis, or measles.
Now the FOA is calling on policymakers to reduce food loss and waste to improve access to nutritious and healthy food, UN News reports.
It turns out that 1 in every 5 deaths worldwide is associated with poor-quality diets, and food waste is to blame. With over 821 million people malnourished in 2017, according to the UN, that puts a significant portion of the population at risk.
Nutritious food doesn't end up where it should. For instance, agriculture produces 22% more vitamin A than we require, but the amount available for human consuption is 11% less than is needed a healthy diet.
The problem starts with increasingly complex food production systems. One-third of food produced in the world never reaches consumers because nutritious fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and meat, spoil quickly.
More than half of all fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted. This means the water, land, and energy used to harvest them is wasted, too. Around 25% of all meat produced, the equivalent to 75 million cows, isn’t consumed. Meat overproduction is a major greenhouse gas emission contributor, which takes a toll on our health and the environment.
"To tackle all forms of malnutrition and promote healthy diets, we need to put in place food systems that increase the availability, affordability, and consumption of fresh, nutrient-rich food for everyone,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who co-authored the report.
Poor-quality diets are now a greater public health threat than malaria, tuberculosis or measles.— FAO Newsroom (@FAOnews) November 7, 2018
A new policy brief urges policymakers to prioritize the reduction of #foodloss and #foodwaste
Read more 👉 https://t.co/fFrp7oaxEa#ZeroHungerpic.twitter.com/xunDyFczTA
Cost is a real barrier for people living in extreme poverty who are trying to access nutritious food. As of 2013, about 767 million people are living below the international poverty line of less than $1.90 per person per day, according to the World Hunger Education Service. Harvard School of Public Health found eating a healthy diet costs about an extra $1.50 a day, which is almost double the amount people living in poverty usually have.
In low-income countries, food is usually lost during harvesting, storage, processing, and transportation, while in high-income countries, retailers and consumers are mostly responsible.
Food waste is also an economic burden that ends up costing the world around $1 trillion annually, according to the UN.
The report aims to encourage action to solve the world nutrition crisis by reducing food loss and waste. It proposes policy actions that cover the entire food system, by emphasizing the need to educate leaders, focus on perishable foods, fix infrastructure, and close data gaps on the state of food loss and waste.
Some countries have already moved toward more sustainable food waste practices. UK supermarkets pledged to halve all food waste by 2030 in September, and France introduced a zero food waste policy in 2015. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to follow.