Who says “malnutrition” says “undernourishment”. Really ? Admittedly, even today, 805 million people are hungry in the world. But it would be forgotten that two billion people suffer from “hidden hunger”, namely, vitamin and mineral deficiencies (iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc …). One billion people are overweight (body mass index – BMI -> 25), a third of whom are obese (BMI> 30). Rich countries are not the only ones affected because the number of overweight people is swelling rapidly in emerging countries like China and India and in poor countries.
Source of diseases
Malnutrition weakens the body of the human being who will be more exposed to a communicable disease. Thus, not only do the 100 million children with vitamin A deficiency grow slower, but they risk blindness or death depending on the severity of the deficiency. 4 to 5 billion people lacking iron have less resistance, stunting and incomplete mental development.2 billion of them suffer from anemia. Even noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are increasing. Over-consumption of (bad) fats, sugar, alcohol and salt results in increased cholesterol and blood pressure, causing heart and kidney disease, diabetes and some cancers. NCDs will continue to grow. Today, they already cause more than 30% of premature deaths worldwide.
Eating balanced is essential to be healthy. Yet this aspect has been neglected so far. The explanation may lie in the multisectoral nature of the problem: sufficient agricultural production is not a panacea. Teaching, diet, empowerment of women, good governance, respect for human rights, clean water, hygiene … must also meet these needs.
A duped farming population
Olivier De Schutter, former United Nations rapporteur for the right to food, explains: “We have focused too much on undernourishment (proteins, calories …) by emphasizing the intensification of agricultural production and the food prices, and we neglected the importance of a balanced diet. “Intensive agriculture, free trade, and major crops (corn, wheat, soybeans) have received a lot of attention. Developing countries exported their cereal crops, tropical fruits and vegetables, and imported refined grains. Eating healthy foods rich in vitamins and fiber (vegetables, fruits, legumes) has become more expensive than food rich in oils, sugars and bad fats. Smallholders in these countries have been the losers in history, with hunger and its hidden variant predominant in their families (see Factsheet “Hunger”, Dimension 3, 2/2011).
Urbanization aggravates the problem. Many farmers will live in cities, looking for a better future. But surviving there is no easier. These people often find themselves in an environment (slums) where healthy food is almost absent, and expensive, while it is possible to eat inexpensively in fast food places or buy food refined (chips, sweet drinks) in supermarkets.
Fast food and snacking
Large food companies and fast-food chains – often multinationals – play a significant role. They do everything to sell their products, generally bad for health, sometimes with the help of trade agreements. Mexico was flooded with Coca-Cola and snackfood after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. On average, per year, the Mexican population – the most obese in the world – drinks per head 160 liters of the famous drink.
But multinationals have a lot of money and power. Despite a resolution banning child advertising, commercials for fast food are still being broadcast before and after children’s programs. So much remains to be done. The agricultural and food policy must be transformed as a whole in order to make access to a healthy and balanced diet universal.