Several news reports have caught this writer’s eye, in the last couple of weeks, all of them about children and as ever, the issue is about food and access to food, revealing what a crazy world we live in.
Contrast this from the UK’s Independent newspaper 18 May 2010 which reported that more than 100 diabetes experts had called on the Government to introduce a law banning all forms of “unhealthy food” adverts targeting children.
The group said current restrictions on television advertising during children’s programmes should extend to all adverts, including those in newspapers, magazines and on billboards, to stop an increase in the number of obese youngsters.
The report quoted Dr Scott Ramsay, lead organiser of the event for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh who says that rates of obesity and diabetes are continuing to increase at alarming rates and pose one of the most serious health challenges of this time.
In the same week, on the BBC website, was a report from India of a village an hour south of the city of Allahabad where people were so poor they could not feed their children, who were chewing on the mud simply because they were hungry – even though it was making them ill.
To confuse the picture still further, came a report from the medical journal The Lancet that far fewer children are dying every year than previously guessed by the United Nations.
It said that using more data and an improved modeling technique, scientists predicted about 7.7 million children under age 5 would die this year, reduced from nearly 12 million in 1990. Child deaths dropped by about 2 percent every year,
But that was still lower than the 4.4 percent needed to reach the U.N.’s target to reduce child deaths by two thirds by 2015.
Here the UN is talking about preventable deaths from causes like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Some of these can be linked to malnutrition, defined by the World Health Organisation as essentially “bad nourishment”.
Importantly, in the WHO, malnutrition is about not enough and also too much of the wrong type of food. Clinically, malnutrition is characterized by inadequate or excess intake of protein, energy, and micronutrients such as vitamins, and the frequent infections and disorders that result.
Perhaps this helps makes some sense of the two contrasting news stories at the start of this article – and this is the issue of healthy food and people’s access to it.
Much of this could be alleviated by equalising access to resources, to farmers and producers, to farm affordably and sustainably, to produce healthy foods using the new low-chem agricultural products being created by Biopesticides Developers across the world.
As UNICEF in its November 2009 report celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which warns that the global economic downturn, coupled with historically high levels of food prices, has led to concerns that poverty and undernutrition will increase and that climate and population shifts also threaten recent advances in child rights.
The WHO, meanwhile, has pinpointed obesity in Europe as one of the 21st century’s biggest public health challenges and cites that it has tripled in many countries of the European Region since the 1980s, with numbers of those affected, particularly children, continuing to rise at an alarming rate.
At the same time it recognises that in low-income countries in the region, poverty affects more than half the population, leading to food insecurity and the consumption of unsafe foods of poor nutritional quality and that food insecurity is also a problem in vulnerable groups of people in higher-income countries.
So changing this situation depends on education and consumer access to reliable information. Even in Europe, WHO says, Member States’ failure to achieve nutrition and food safety goals is due to a lack of resources, expertise, political commitment or inter-sectoral coordination preventing proper implementation of action plans.
It adds that food distribution and catering in many industrialized countries is concentrated in the hands of a few operators, who influence product supply, safety and price.
Therefore the media, advertising and retail sectors and the food industry have an influence on dietary choices, sometimes in the opposite direction from that which public health specialists recommend.
Malnutrition is not only about too little food, it’s also about too much of the wrong kind. It’s crazy that both exist simultaneously on the same planet.
Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers