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Experts Issue Urgent Call to Act on Triple Threat of Obesity, Malnutrition and Climate Change

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Happy Meal / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Obesity, malnutrition and climate change must be fought together in order to save lives and the planet, a report released Sunday from the Lancet Commission concluded.


The Lancet Commission brought together 43 experts from 14 countries and follows two Lancet reports on obesity in 2011 and 2015, CNN reported. This most recent report looks at the issue of obesity in a larger context, diagnosing a "global syndemic" or "a synergy of pandemics that co-occur," in this case, obesity, undernutrition and climate change.

"What we're doing now is unsustainable," study author and George Washington University public health expert William Dietz told Reuters. "The only thing we can hope is that a sense of urgency will permeate. We're running out of time."

Obesity and malnutrition are together the leading global cause of early death, and climate change could lead to 529,000 additional adult deaths by 2050 only because of food shortages, CNN reported. Currently, more than two billion adults and children are overweight and suffer from related health issues while two billion also suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and 815 million suffer from chronic undernutrition.

The problems also have linked causes, Reuters noted. The same agriculture and food production systems that churn out nutrient-poor food also lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Land use by agriculture and forestry is responsible for a quarter of all emissions, according to Food and Agricultural Organization figures.

Further, corporate lobbying and ineffective policies make the problem worse. In 2016 alone, sugary-drink companies spent $50 million against U.S. government efforts to curb consumption.

"Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories," commission co-chair Prof. Boyd Swinburn told The Independent. "In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes. Climate change has the same story of profits and power," he said.

Luckily, the report also offers plenty of solutions. Some, according to CNN, include:

1. Investing in public transportation, which encourages exercise and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Moving food subsidies from beef, dairy, corn, sugar, rice and wheat and towards healthier, more sustainable foods and farming methods.

3. Passing laws making it clear how much politicians receive from big food companies.

4. Putting clearer labels on food explaining both their nutritional content and environmental impact.

5. Creating a $70 billion global "Food Fund" to cut malnutrition worldwide.

The Lancet Commission also called for a global treaty similar to the Paris agreement on climate change to address the global food system and limit the influence of the food industry, according to Reuters and The Independent.

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