Poor diet greater health risk than deadly diseases: UN body

Poor quality diet is a greater threat to public health across the world than malaria, tuberculosis or measles as diet-related factors now account for six of the top nine contributors to the global burden of disease. Though the world is producing more food than it needs, an estimated three billion people have inadequate diets.

This was stated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a report it co-authored with the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. "Every year, approximately 1.3 billion metric tonnes of food produced for human consumption - one third of the total - never reaches the consumer's plate or bowl," stated the report. The report titled "Preventing nutrient loss and waste across the food system: Policy action for high quality diets" stated that "eating more of the nutrient rich food already being produced would result in savings to land, water and energy consumption tied to food production, and resources used in industrial food fortification. In addition, the scale and pace of food production would not need to increase at the rates currently required to meet the demand of an additional 1 billion people by 2030."

The traditional response to ensuring food security was to promote higher output of staple crops such as grains, tubers and starchy foods to provide nutrient energy (kilocaories). However, policymakers around the world are increasingly acknowledging the challenge of meeting the rising demand for a healthy diet rather than just calorie sufficiency, the report said. The world's total supply of calories has never been greater in human history thanks to remarkable gains in agricultural productivity. The report recommended higher consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and greater dietary diversity to tackle micronutrient deficiencies.

Globally, in 2016, one in five deaths was associated with poor diets including increasing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) associated with the rise of obesity, also linked to poor-quality diets.

Across all food groups, half of all food loss and waste was associated with nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, stated the report, adding that about a third was associated with staple crops like grains and roots. Around 25% of all meat produced, equivalent to 75 million cows, and over 30% of the total fish and seafood harvested each year is lost or wasted.

FAO data indicates that in low-income countries, food is mostly lost during harvesting, storage, processing and transportation, while in high-income nations the waste is at retail and consumer level. Together, they directly impact the number of calories and nutrients actually available for consumption, stated the FAO.

"With the value of global food lost or wasted annually, estimated to be around $1 trillion, cutting down on waste would also yield major economic benefits," said the FAO.

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