More than a half of the global population will suffer some form of malnutrition by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to improve access to high-quality food, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has told G7 health ministers.
Climate change and conflict are behind the first increase in undernourishment in a decade, according to a report by FAO entitled ‘The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2017’. 815 million people went hungry in 2016 (11% of the global population), an increase of 38 million on the previous year. Around 155 million children have stunted growth due to poor nutrition.
But rates of other forms of malnutrition such as nutrient deficiency and obesity are also alarmingly high.
“About one in three people globally suffer from at least one form of malnutrition: be it hunger, micronutrient deficiencies, or overweight and obesity,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told G7 health ministers at a meeting in Milan on Sunday (5 November).
“Unless we take urgent and effective action, more than half of the world’s population will suffer from at least one type of malnutrition by 2030,” da Silva added.
More than two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, while 1.9 billion adults and 41 million children are overweight.
In the G7 club of industrialised nations – the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US – overweight and obesity are the biggest malnutrition concerns. The FAO chief said urbanisation was influencing people’s dietary choices and leading to the consumption of more processed foods, which he blamed for increasing overweight and obesity rates.
Emma Calvert, food policy officer at the European Consumer Organisation BEUC agrees. “We live in an environment where the unhealthy choice is the easy choice,” she told EURACTV.com. “We have to reverse this tide if we are to halt the obesity epidemic in Europe.”
One in three European children are overweight due to high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles. In its 2017 Obesity Report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed to sugary drinks as a major part of the problem: “Intake of free sugars, especially through sugar-sweetened beverages, is of particular concern in relation to overweight and obesity as it contributes to increased overall energy intake.”
According to the European Commission, 2.8 million deaths in the EU are associated with obesity each year and conditions related to obesity absorb 7% of the bloc’s national health budgets.
Calvert called on the EU’s regulators to set stricter rules for nutritional content in food, nutrition labelling and the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. “Governments also need to allocate sufficient resources to make sure those rules are applied,” she said.