Poor diets now pose a greater risk to health than a combination of unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco according to a recently released report that showed how changing food systems and diets have affected health and what it could do in the next 20 years. The report focuses on nutrition-related sutainable development goals (SDG).
Findings from the report Food Systems and Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st Century of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, revealed that over the next 20 years, South Asian countries will face serious challenges to improve nutrition and to avoid further increase of diet related non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
“The Foresight Report highlights the risks posed by the double burden of malnutrition in South Asia, where overweight and obesity exist alongside undernutrition,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, and panel member. “But the long and damaging path that high-income countries have taken to slowing down rises in obesity rates is not a fixed route”.
At the Foresight South Asia Launch of the Report, in New Delhi, the Global Panel additionally released a paper Better diets for a better future: A food system perspective in South Asia, highlighting the challenges facing the region now, and in the future. South Asian countries are required to address the challenges if they are to achieve the SDG target of sustainable food consumption and production, as well as the target of ending hunger.
“The level of effort required to address this problem is not dissimilar to the fervor with which the international community confronted HIV/AIDS, malaria and other pandemic diseases,” said John Beddington, former UK Chief Scientific Advisor and co-chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.
Although South Asian countries have made progress in the drive to address health and malnutrition issues, the report shows that food systems are yet to deliver healthy diets. In India, between 80-85 per cent of the country’s population are consuming processed foods, leading a shift towards 'energy-dense foods' and away from 'micronutrient rich foods'. A ‘business as usual’ scenario projection, shows that there will still be 188 million calorie deficient people in South Asia in 2030, the report said.
The global panel recommended that in South Asia, specific priorities for action need to renew focus on food and agriculture policies on securing diet quality for infants and young children. India also needed to improve quality of diet for adolescent girls and adult women’s on a priority basis, in all policy making that shapes food systems, the report said for India.
It also recommended making fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds much more available, more affordable and safe for all consumers.
Making policies which regulate product formulation, labelling, advertising, promotion and taxes a high priority. And recognising animal source foods (e.g. dairy, eggs, fish and meat) as important nutrient sources.
According to the experts on the panel, institutionalising high-quality diets through public sector purchasing power is also a need of the hour. "We need to refocus on agriculture research investments globally to support healthy diets and good nutrition,"said Beddington.
The India-UK Tech Summit scheduled to be held in November, is also expected to offer an opportunity to explore partnerships for health-promoting food systems and agriculture, alongside other sectors. “The report provides a guide for governments and decision-makers to change course through action and investment to create food systems that promote health and deliver quality diets,” said Sandy Thomas, Global Panel Director.
The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition is commited to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security.