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Current Position:Home » News » General News » Topic

Trade and consumption of cheap junk food are an obstacle for healthy diets, says FAO Director

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-09-14  Views: 11
Core Tip: “The globalized food system is not delivering the diets that people need for a healthy life, but instead contributes to obesity and overweight especially in countries that are importing most of their food,” according to UN Food and Agriculture Organizatio
“The globalized food system is not delivering the diets that people need for a healthy life, but instead contributes to obesity and overweight especially in countries that are importing most of their food,” according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva. To remedy this situation, da Silva calls for the implementation of policies that protect healthy and local diets, and encourage the private sector to produce healthier food.
 
Addressing a technical workshop on food safety and healthy diets organized by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, da Silva notes that fast food is often cheaper, and easier to access than fresh food – a situation that is spurring on elevated levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases around the world.
 
“Unfortunately, commodities and industrialized cheap food are much easier for international trade,” da Silva says.
 
Small island developing states in the Pacific, which have to import most of their food, are particular pertinent examples, with obesity rates ranging from more than 30 percent in Fiji to 80 percent among women in American Samoa. 
 
FAO statistics show that in at least 10 Pacific Island countries, more than 50 percent (and in some up to 90 percent) of the population is overweight. The overconsumption of imported industrialized food high in salt, sodium, sugar and trans fats is the major driver behind this situation. FAO estimates indicate that today 2.6 billion people are overweight and that the prevalence of obesity in the global population has increased from 11.7 percent in 2012 to 13.2 percent in 2016.

Obesity rates among children in the Asia Pacific are growing rapidly and will soon pose a serious healthcare threat to countries in the region if no action is taken, according to a recent warning by the FAO. To combat the threat of “diabesity,” governments need to encourage healthier diets, more active living and stress management exercises, says Dr. Naaznin Husein, President of the Indian Dietetic Association’s (IDA) Mumbai chapter.

“If we do not adopt urgent actions to halt the increasing obesity rates, we soon may have more obese people than undernourished people in the world,” Graziano da Silva says.

“There are several underlying factors driving the global pandemic of obesity. Unhealthy diets are the most significant one,” he notes, pointing to the increased availability and accessibility of food types that are very energy-dense, high in fat, sugar and salt, whose sales have been spurred on by intense marketing and advertising.

“Fast and junk food is the best example of that. This kind of food is cheaper, and easier to access and prepare than fresh food, particularly for poor people in urban areas,” Graziano says, noting that when resources for food become scarce, people choose less expensive foods that are often high in caloric density and low in nutrients.

Taking action
“Countries should have in place laws that protect healthy and local diets, and encourage the private sector to produce healthier food,” Graziano da Silva says.

These could include taxes on unhealthy food products; clear and informative labeling of products; restrictions of advertising for junk food to children; and, a reduction in the levels of salt and sugar used to produce food, or even banning the use of some ingredients such as trans fats. Governments should also encourage food diversification, and facilitate market access for local products from family farming, for example, school feeding programs that link local production to school meals, thus boosting the local economy while promoting healthy diets for children.

Trade agreements must be designed in ways that make local nutritious food cheaper to produce, while restricting the influx of imported cheap food that are high in fat, sugar and salt, da Silva adds.

Education, including school curricula that teach children about healthy cooking and healthy food choices, plays a huge role in improving diets, da Silva notes, as does greater access to information for consumers to promote awareness and healthier dietary choices.

Research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) exemplifies this need for education, after revealing that 43 percent of adults find it difficult to find reliable information on healthy diets, with changing information, messages and advice from media and experts being the biggest causes for confusion (76 percent and 61 percent, respectively).

Workshop
The workshop included participants from government, academia, civil society and international institutions.

“Making investments that ensure food systems and food environments are providing healthier and safe diets for everyone is a challenging task due to their complexity and trade-offs, as well as the range of decision-makers shaping those systems,” Jessica Fanzo, Senior Program Officer, FAO, comments during the workshop.

“It is only fair that policymakers should have the latest and most rigorous evidence in-hand when formulating policies that will best address how to orient nutrition-friendly food systems. Instead, they are often functioning in the dark, with limited data on what works for their specific context. FAO is working with countries to better unpack the necessary evidence to take actions on improving the health and safety of diets,” she notes.


 
 
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