A poor diet poses more health risks than alcohol, tobacco, drugs and unprotected sex put together, concludes a recently published study.
“We must pay more attention to diet since six of the 11 disease risk factors are related to what we eat. You have to focus on poor diet, rather than just the symptoms,” said Patrick Webb from the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, a committee of experts which conducted a study on our food systems.
Their recently published report puts under the spotlight the situation around the world. The concept of poor diet thus includes both under-nutrition (mostly in poor countries) and unhealthy diets (in rich countries), which lead to obesity and overweight.
The researchers observed that diet-related diseases cause more loss in years of life in good health than what is caused by smoking, alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex.
For the authors of the study, the problem lies not in the quantity of food consumed, but in the quality of food.
Earth is home to 3 billion people whose diet is poor. Malnutrition no longer no longer means under-nutrition. Humans don’t eat as healthy as they could even when given the opportunity. “The current food system focuses too much on the amount of food and not enough on the quality,” says the Panel. Specifically, consumers lack information about healthy and affordable food choices.
The figures confirm this sad fact: 2 million people have inadequate intakes of micronutrients. Around the same number of people are overweight or obese. The trend is on the rise, particularly in countries with moderate incomes. Diseases related to junk food are the most numerous: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol among others. The effects are broad and are not restricted to adults. Indirectly, a poor diet can also amplify the symptoms of certain diseases such as HIV, malaria or measles.
Faced with this bleak assessment, the outlook is poor. Over the next 20 years, the situation may get even worse, and no country is spared. Compared to 2005, excess weight may double in China. On the European side, a quarter of the French population will be affected by overweight, against half the Icelandic population and a third of Britons. The effects will be even larger in Nigeria and Ethiopia; cases of diabetes are expected to increase twofold.
“Healthy foods, low in salt and sugar, should be the pillars of food policies to get companies to make changes,” said the Quebec nutritionist Hubert Cormier.
The Global Panel hopes that governments around the world will address this problem as they have done for other diseases, such as HIV or smoking.”We focused on smoking and we have lost sight of the efforts at the food level,” insisted Corinne Voyer, director of the organization.
“The forces that lead to change, such as population growth, climate change and urbanization are all converging on the food system,” says the Panel’s report. But these changes will also pose a new challenge in each country: how to ensure an adequate supply of food to the growing population amid more demanding conditions? According to the panel, the whole current model must change.
The paradigm change that they recommend is simple at first glance: the food system must feed the population as a whole. However, it is no longer about calorie intake, but also to ensure the quality of the food — with great variety. Women and children must also be at the heart of this nutrition policy.