Healthy diets out of reach: Inflation, war and COVID-19 driving malnutrition, report warns
11 Jul 2022 --- World hunger rose significantly during the pandemic, destroying goals set by the United Nations in 2015. Food security experts assert that the only way to keep 8% of the world population experiencing malnutrition by 2030 is to repurpose current economic subsidies and strategies that address the problems of conflicts, climate change and rising inflation.
A new FAO-led report holds that if not adequately addressed, 670 million people will face hunger and malnutrition.
“We are still witnessing the negative impact on food security and nutrition of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it, and the war in Ukraine has made the situation even more challenging,” Cindy Holleman, senior economist, FAO, tells NutritionInsight.
“A focus of this year’s report is the high cost and unaffordability of healthy diets,” says Holleman. “Almost 3.1 billion people cannot afford these. It is critical to look beyond hunger - it is important not only to have enough food to eat; this food must be nutritious. The reason why millions of people are food insecure and malnourished is that healthy diets are out of reach.”
The State of Food of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: 2022 was jointly led by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Reevaluate and restructure
The authors believe this means that current policies and strategies to bolster food security have failed and must be repurposed. Though worldwide support for food and agriculture has averaged US$630 billion per year, most of it is not reaching the individual farmers or being used as intended.
Furthermore, many of these policies can have negative effects on indigenous peoples and small-scale producers, destroy local environments and still not provide proper nutrition. This is due to a focus on staples that, in some cases, actually penalizes nutritious fruits and vegetables, making them more expensive.
For instance, cereal production has been overemphasized to the detriment of more nutritious foods. These policies have helped to provide sufficient calories, but they do not help meet nutrition needs. However, even staples are under threat. These policies must be revamped if any progress is to be made toward ending global hunger, the report notes.
“The pandemic widened existing inequalities in incomes, assets and access to services, which is heightening the challenge of eradicating hunger,” concludes Holleman. “It is not easy to recover quickly from the effects of the economic shocks, supply chain disruptions and the cumulative negative effects of the pandemic on people’s lives and livelihoods. These are structural issues, which require significant investments and time to recover.” The report states that current policies will have to be completely restructured to address the setbacks caused by the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine.
The current conflict in Ukraine is another major factor in both current and future food insecurity. The report asserts that the war in Ukraine will continue to have devastating effects on world nutrition if more action is not taken, causing both scarcity and inflation.
Holleman explains: “Although the report profiles the state of food security and nutrition up to 2021, the ongoing war in Ukraine poses an additional challenge for ending hunger and casts a shadow over the state of food security and nutrition for many countries, in particular those that are already facing hunger and food crisis situations.”
“The FAO conducted simulations that take into account two of the risks induced by the conflict. The trade risk (reflected in interrupted wheat and maize exports from Ukraine) and the price risk (reflected in the rise in prices of commodities and energy). Based on preliminary analysis under different scenarios – the war in Ukraine could add a further 7.6 million to 19 million more malnourished people in 2023.”
A crisis is acutely worsening
The authors state that world hunger and malnutrition significantly worsened from 2019 to 2020 and continued to grow in 2021. The number of people facing undernourishment grew from 8 to 9.3% from 2019 to 2021 and an additional 0.5% in 2021, meaning that between 702 and 828 million people faced hunger last year. That is an increase of 149 million people in three years.
By the end of 2021, 11.7% of the world population were facing severe levels of food insecurity, which has dire consequences for the most vulnerable. The authors estimate that globally, 22% of children under five experienced stunting, 6.7% experienced wasting and 5.7% were overweight.
“Diet quality is a critical link between food security and nutrition,” Holleman notes. “Poor diet quality can lead to different forms of malnutrition, including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity.”
“There were 122 million more people unable to afford a healthy diet in 2020 than in 2019. This increase reflects the inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.”
By William Bradford Nichols
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