Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Five Ways to Tackle Disastrous Diets

Olivier De Schutter

“Our food systems are making people sick,” warned Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the right to food, on March 6. “One in seven people globally are undernourished, and many more suffer from the 'hidden hunger' of micronutrient deficiency, while 1.3 billion are overweight or obese.”

“Faced with this public health crisis, we continue to prescribe medical remedies—nutrition pills and early-life nutrition strategies for those lacking in calories; slimming pills, lifestyle advice and calorie counting for the overweight. But we must tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms,” the independent expert said as he presented his report* on nutrition to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The right to food means not only access to an adequate quantity of food, but also the ability to have a balanced and nutritious diet,” Mr. De Schutter said. “Governments must not abstain from their responsibility to secure this right.”

Mr. De Schutter identified five priority actions for placing nutrition at the heart of food systems in the developed and developing world:

  • taxing unhealthy products
  • regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar
  • cracking down on junk food advertising
  • overhauling misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others
  • supporting local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods

“Urbanization, supermarketization and the global spread of modern lifestyles have shaken up traditional food habits. The result is a public health disaster,” said De Schutter. “Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed.”

De Schutter highlighted, for example, that in 2010, U.S. companies spent $8.5 billion advertising food, candy and non-alcoholic beverages, while $44 million was budgeted for the government’s primary standing healthy eating program.**

“We have deferred to food companies the responsibility for ensuring that a good nutritional balance emerges. Voluntary guidelines and piecemeal nutrition initiatives have failed to create a system with the right signals, and the odds remain stacked against the achievement of a healthy, balanced diet,” he said.

De Schutter also identified the abundance of processed food as a major threat to improving nutrition. “Heavy processing thrives in our global food system, and is a win-win for multinational agri-food companies. Processed items can be produced and distributed on a huge scale, thanks to cheap subsidized ingredients and their increased shelf life.”

“But for the people, it is a lose-lose,” he stressed. “Heavily processed foods lead to diets richer in saturated and trans-fatty acids, salt and sugars. Children become hooked on the junk foods targeted at them. In better-off countries, the poorest population groups are most affected because foods high in fats, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthy diets as a result of misguided subsidies whose health impacts have been wholly ignored.”

The UN expert noted that the West is now exporting diabetes and heart disease to developing countries, along with the processed foods that line the shelves of global supermarkets. By 2030, more than 5 million people will die each year before the age of 60 from non-communicable diseases linked to diets.

“We should not simply invest our hopes in medicalizing our diets with enriched products, or changing people’s choices through health warnings. We need ambitious, targeted nutrition strategies to protect the right to adequate food, and such strategies will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right,” De Schutter said.

For more information, click here.

—————

* Read the full report

** Food marketing figures from The Advertising Age, June 2011. US nutritional spending ($44m) refers to the Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity budget of the US Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and does not encompass various nutritional programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A man pushes his mother in a wheelchair down Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami on May 19, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.

Read More Show Less
To better understand how people influence the overall health of dolphins, Oklahoma State University's Unmanned Systems Research Institute is developing a drone to collect samples from the spray that comes from their blowholes. Ken Y. / CC by 2.0

By Jason Bruck

Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.

Read More Show Less

Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.

Read More Show Less
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks. jacqueline / CC by 2.0

By Kelli McGrane

Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.

Read More Show Less

"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images

Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.

Read More Show Less
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons. Curtis Palmer / CC by 2.0

By Ashutosh Pandey

Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A women walks with COVID-19 care kits distributed by Boston's Office of Neighborhood Services in Boston, Massachusetts on May 28, 2020. The pandemic has led to a rise in single-use plastic items, but reusable bags and cloth masks can be two ways to reduce waste. JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP via Getty Images

This month is Plastic Free July, the 31 days every year when millions of people pledge to give up single-use plastics.

Read More Show Less