Around 57 of the 129 countries that have data on undernutrition and obesity are struggling with both1.
Everywhere, the consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts, seeds and fruits is much below that recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, people are consuming too much fat, processed meat, salt and sugary drinks.
Global food systems are failing to keep us all fed, let alone healthy. How food is grown, distributed, processed, marketed and sold determines which foods are available, affordable and desirable. These factors have a crucial role in the quality of people's diets, and hence play a vital part in health.
Diet is the number one risk factor in the global burden of disease2. Poor diets are responsible for more of the global burden of ill health than sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco combined. In the next few decades, food systems will be under further stresses from population and income growth, urbanization, globalization, climate change and increasingly scarce natural resources.
Although 795 million people are undernourished and lack essential vitamins and minerals3, obesity is behind many of the chronic diseases that are sweeping the globe, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease. One in three people is malnourished. Almost one-quarter of children under five have stunted growth, with diminished physical and cognitive capacities. Across Africa and Asia, the impact of undernutrition on gross domestic product is 11% annually1. At the same time, 2 billion adults worldwide — more than 1 in 4 — are overweight or obese.
This is not a problem that countries can overcome through growth or development. As economies expand, many social factors improve, but the quality of diets does not. Hunger and famine have fallen substantially, thanks to rapid poverty reduction and rising agricultural productivity. But progress remains too slow in many respects. Moreover, middle- and low-income countries are now following the well-worn, highly damaging path from undernutrition to obesity.