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A paradigm shift is needed to improve diets and food system resilience

Diet is the single biggest cause of disease burden worldwide

In the past forty years, the world has done “really well” on improving food availability.  But meanwhile, diets have shifted in “very bad”, unhealthy directions. Even people who can afford nutritious food are opting for junk food instead, said Steve Godfrey, of the Geneva-based food and nutrition NGO, GAIN, at a conference on food systems hosted by Geneva’s Graduate Institute on Tuesday.

Why is healthy food important? Inadequate or unhealthy diets are, in fact, the “single biggest cause” of diseases worldwide, claiming 11 million lives a year, said Lina Mahy, WHO Technical Officer for Nutrition and Food Safety, at the event.

“Sugar now is more dangerous than gunpowder”, said Githinji Gitahi, CEO, of the Nairobi-based NGO Amref Health Africa. “More people are dying of sugar than from terrorism and violence.”

And government-imposed lockdowns, as well as widespread border closures, have had ‘far-reaching’ impacts on food systems that were already frail in Africa.

Fostering food resilience – legislation & data are critical

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Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref Health Africa

The world has the tools to foster food system resilience for better health, said Gitahi. However, we need to use them “now” to build back better from the pandemic.

Carefully-crafted policy is one of the answers, as it nudges people to eat healthier food while shooing them away from toxic foods that are high in sugar, salt or unhealthy trans fats:

“We must bring legislation and regulation to the table, and civil society must force governments to improve regulation of unhealthy foods,” said Gitahi, “Countries need to regulate sugar imports and regulate unhealthy fats; the time to do this is now.”

Also clear, disaggregated data is vital to identify groups that are suffering the most from poor access to food, or a lack of nutritious foods. Gitahi:

”Who do you give aid to if you don’t know who’s vulnerable? Data is extremely critical.”

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