According to the latest Foresight Report from the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GLOPAN), three billion people around the world consume low-quality diets, and this nutrition crisis will likely only get worse in the coming decades. Population growth and climate change will place increasing stress on food systems, particularly in Africa and Asia. At the same time, rapidly increasing urbanization, particularly in these two regions, will affect hunger and nutrition in complex ways.
GLOPAN is an independent group of international stakeholders and policymakers dedicated to improving nutrition in low- and middle-income countries; the group is jointly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development. GLOPAN’s Foresight Report investigates the state and future trends of global diets, with a focus on developing countries. The report presents a number of recommendations and policy areas that, if targeted, will lead to improved diets and a reduction in malnutrition around the world.
Despite substantial progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition over the past 25 years, billions of people still consume poor diets and suffer from various forms of malnourishment. According to GLOPAN, more than two billion people lack sufficient micronutrients in their diets, and almost one-quarter of all children are stunted. Simultaneously, rates of obesity and overweight, which are correlated with increased incidence of chronic diseases, are increasing in all regions of the world; the number of obese and overweight people is expected to reach 3.28 billion by 2030.
The report argues that current food systems (in both developing and developed countries) are not delivering healthy diets for two broad reasons. First, food systems focus too much on food quantity and not enough on food quality. Second, food systems are shifting from short food chains and minimally processed foods delivered in local markets toward more global systems, which have long food chains involving multiple pathways and/or transformations. According to the report’s authors, the processing and transporting of food over long distances generally means that more food is lost before it reaches consumers; in addition, foods tend to become less nutritious when they are processed or stored for longer periods.
The report argues that rising incomes alone will not improve the quality of people’s diets. As incomes increase, food scarcity does indeed diminish; however, people’s ability to purchase foods that do not support high quality diets (such as processed foods) increases. In addition, the cost of many nutritious foods remains high.
The report presents ten policy priority areas that it argues will improve food systems and diets:
- Secure high quality diets for infants and young children.
- Improve access to high quality food for women and girls.
- Ensure that policy decisions are guided by food-based dietary guidelines.
- Support the production and distribution of animal source foods (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs), as these foods provide important nutrients.
- Increase the availability and affordability of fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, and seeds.
- Prioritize and regulate product formulation, labelling, advertising, promotion, and taxes.
- Improve accountability of both governments and private sector actors in reaching nutrition and public health goals.
- Remove barriers associated with the longstanding division of jurisdictional responsibilities within many governments (for instance, between agriculture, health, social protection, and commerce agencies).
- Ensure that high quality foods are available public places such as hospitals and schools, in order to create and drive nutrition norms.
- Refocus agricultural research investments to support healthy diets and good nutrition.
The report argues that if these priority areas are pursued, rapid reductions in undernutrition and obesity rates can be achieved. It ends with a ‘Global Call to Action’, encouraging renewed commitment by both international and national stakeholders to high quality and affordable food available to everyone. To reach this goal, policies need to move beyond agriculture and consider all of the many processes and activities involved in food production, including processing, storage, transportation, trade, transformation, and retailing.