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A global study shows how changing food systems and diets could affect health over the next 20 years and outlines strategies, governments need to adopt to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.
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Findings from a recent report, “Food Systems and Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st Century” by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, revealed that over the next 20 years, South Asian countries will face serious challenges to improve nutrition and avoid further increase of diet related non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

“The Foresight Report highlights the risks posed by the double burden of malnutrition in South Asia, where overweight and obesity exist alongside undernutrition” said Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India who is also a member of the Global Panel. “But the long and damaging path that high-income countries have taken to slowing down rises in obesity rates is not a fixed route”.

At the Foresight South Asia Launch of the Report, which took place in New Delhi, the Global Panel additionally released a paper “Better diets for a better future: A food system perspective in South Asia”, which highlights the challenges facing the Region now, and in the future. Challenges that South Asian countries will need to address if they are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of sustainable food consumption and production, as well as SDG target of ending hunger.

“The level of effort required to address this problem is not dissimilar to the fervor with which the international community confronted HIV/AIDS, malaria and other pandemic diseases.” said John Beddington, former UK Chief Scientific Advisor and Co-Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

Although South Asian countries have made progress in the drive to address health and malnutrition issues, the Report shows that food systems are yet to deliver healthy diets. In India, for example, between 80-85 percent of the country’s population consume processed foods, leading to a shift towards energy-dense foods and away micronutrient rich foods. On the other hand, a ‘business as usual’ scenario projection, shows that there will still be 188 million calorie deficient people in South Asia in 2030.

The Report recommends that in South Asia, specific priorities for action need to include;

  • Focusing food and agriculture policies on securing diet quality for infants and young children
  • Improving adolescent girl and adult women’s diet quality as a priority in all policy making that shapes food systems
  • Making fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds much more available, more affordable and safe for all consumers
  • Making policies which regulate product formulation, labelling, advertising, promotion and taxes a high priority
  • Recognising animal source foods such as dairy, eggs, fish and meat as important nutrient sources
  • Institutionalising high-quality diets through public sector purchasing power
  • Refocusing agriculture research investments globally to support healthy diets and good nutrition

“The Report provides a guide for governments and policymakers to change course through action and investment to create food systems that promote health and deliver quality diets” said Prof Sandy Thomas, Global Panel Director.

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition an independent group of experts with a commitment to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security. The Panel works to strengthen the evidence-base for action on nutrition and promote opportunities for agriculture and food systems to contribute to progress.  

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