At UN meeting, experts stress need to rethink food systems to improve nutrition

Good diets mean better nutrition and better lives. Photo: FAO/Paballo Thekiso

13 November 2013 – Food systems will need to change significantly to tackle severe nutrition problems that currently afflict more than half of the world’s population, experts told a United Nations meeting in Rome today.

“It is clear that the ways in which food is managed today are failing to result in sufficient improvements in nutrition. The most shocking fact is that over 840 million people still suffer from hunger today, despite the fact that the world already produces enough food for all, and wastes one-third of it,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO), José Graziano da Silva.

“The total amount of food produced but not consumed would be enough to feed an additional two billion. The truth of the matter is that, today, consumers are not receiving the right signals from current policies about how to eat healthily. That is what we need to address.”

Over half of the world’s population is affected by some form of malnutrition. According to FAO, while 842 million people are chronically hungry, many more die or suffer the ill effects of inadequate nutrition. Around 2 billion people are affected by micronutrient deficiencies, close to 7 million children die before their fifth birthday every year, and 162 million children under five are stunted. In addition, 500 million people are obese.

The three-day meeting, organized by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to boost coordination of international efforts to address the agricultural, economic, health, and food systems and other factors that negatively influence what and how people eat, especially in developing countries.

The meeting is a preparatory event designed to lay the groundwork for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), scheduled to take place in November 2014.

Hans Troedsson, Executive Director of the WHO Director-General’s Office, also called for a rethinking of the way in which the food system is managed, saying diet was a key factor in tackling the global burden of disease.

“If we, in the past, were mainly challenged by malnutrition in children, we are today facing an epidemic of poor diets and low physical activity, leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and overweight,” he said.

“The nutrition and health threats have actually expanded and worsened and this will not go away by itself. We need to address it urgently now and in the future,” he added. “The health sector and the food sector need to work together.”

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