Always falling short: Joined up thinking needed to battle global hunger and obesity

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Big ideas: Joined up thinking is needed to battle growing world hunger and ever rising obesity rates.
Big ideas: Joined up thinking is needed to battle growing world hunger and ever rising obesity rates.

Related tags Obesity Economic growth

An unprecedented level of joint planning, innovation, and action between academia, governments, civil society and the food industry is required to battle the ‘double crisis’ that world hunger and high obesity rates are causing, warn researchers.

Widespread hunger continues to haunt developing nations, whilst the ever growing obesity problem is fast becoming a ‘global epidemic’, and despite large-scale efforts to end both problems current efforts have failed to make a dent in the problems, warns Professor Laurette Dubé of McGill University, Canada.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),​ Dubé and her colleagues argue that while hunger and obesity are caused by a perfect storm of multiple factors acting in concert, efforts to counter them have been narrowly focused and isolated.

They say that overcoming the many barriers to achieving healthy nutrition worldwide will instead require an ‘unprecedented’ level of joint planning and action.

Such a plan focuses on innovations that simultaneously take into account the needs of farmers, the complexity of nutrition-related human biology and decision-making, and the power of profit incentives in the commercial sector, she told FoodNavigator: “In this approach, we need to focus on business innovation and engagement – as they have been and will remain drivers of change and development in our industrialised society.”

“I think the message [to the food and beverage industry] is that innovation is key to this transformation, and they are the core of this innovation,”​ she stated. “Re-thinking food and the role that food can play in society and industry – and how we can innovate towards a better solution that the one we have now – is key moving forward, I think.”

“Industry can play a key catalyst role in enrolling other sectors of society to move towards innovations that are more deeply informed and targeted towards solutions to this twin problem of over and under nutrition,”​ suggests Dubé.

Innovating for the future?

Dubé argues that we are at a point in time in human development where as a race are not able to address the basic needs of large segment of a segment of the global population, yet we have created a modern society where every-day lifestyles are root factors for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

“If we were to start from the beginning and re-visit agricultural development, would we be able to develop an industrialisation approach that is more balanced in terms of its ability to address the needs for economic development?”​ she questions.

“If you look at various domains of economic activity, like agriculture, the food industry, transport, etc. The whole development very progressively has led to spending less human calories but producing food that has become overall cheaper and has a stronger focus on higher fat, higher sugar products.”

However, she noted that this divided way that the modern industrialised society works is also at the root of not being able to feed and the world, and a key driver for not being sufficiently able to address under nutrition.

“Let’s create a common vision, to decide what the balance between agriculture, health and economy that we want to achieve both as a society and as individuals.”

“Can we shape a future that is more effective than we have been in the past?”​ she questions. “Can we do that without using the ‘traditional’ approach of adopting methods from the past, as this is not the solution either.”

Related topics Science Sustainability Reformulation

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Freedom will do trick, not more Regulation....

Posted by Juan Francisco Mollinedo,

When some ideologically contaminated research and people are saying that we need to find a "common ground" on issues like obesity, climate, food, diets, sustainability and agriculture, I can't help to see a political (and economical) goal from some few interested. We need more research and more FACTS to let people freely decide on their diets and food purchasing. We have to avoid any political involment on this. Just have to see Cuba, Bolivia and North Korea to see what happens when we let ideology invade our fridge and our stomach. I have not EVER heard (from an independent source) regarding the effectiveness of controled diets, controled agriculture and controled foostuff market. Please wake up and don't let others fool with convenient statistics.

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Posted by Tom J. Openda,

If the billions of dollars poured into Developing Nations such us my country Kenya in form of aid towards eradication of hunger and poverty were wisely and innovatively invested, we can achieve sustainable food security and alleviation poverty. Kenya's arable, which is a third of the country is diminishing fast and within the next 10 years if nothing innovative is done, those in the Central and Western parts will have to rely on food aid and yet there are ways that this can be avoided. There is a model that could be emulated.

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