brazil
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and has been on the rise for many years. Along with a rise in overall GDP and standard of living, experts have found a rise in obesity levels. This trend has come to be associated with countries that are rapidly developing as snack foods have become a symbol of wealth and locally grown produce is seen as cheap and unrefined. Bela Gil, daughter of one of Brazil’s most famous singers, Gilbert Gil, recently posted a photo of her daughters’ lunchbox, and this created an uproar.

The young girls’ lunchbox contained fresh food, yams, bananas and more, all locally grown and in proper portion size, her daughter was being fed well and with Brazil recently being named the nation with the best health reforms, it would usually be something worthy of praise. Instead, the internet reprimanded Gil, saying that she was not feeding her daughter enough and making jokes about how little food there was and how unrefined it was. The truth is that was a great meal because it was so unrefined, in the processed sense of the word.

This healthy farm to table style of eating has only recently gained popularity, and with more and more celebrities jumping on board to endorse healthy eating, it is a wonder it has not been more popular. By posting pictures of her daughters’ healthy meal and various other meals, Gil is using her position of influence to proposition the public to really watch what they are eating. While fast food and highly processed snacks with name brands may be a sign of wealth they are also the cause of Brazil‘s increased obesity rate which has nearly doubled in the past decade.

While we often associate poverty with a complete lack of food, we must also begin to connect it to an abundance of unhealthy food. Overall health can be an indicator of a country’s poverty levels and Brazil’s is on the steep decline. In order to remedy this, individuals of influence must begin to associate wealth with healthy eating and good health habits. By posting pictures of this and promoting healthy portion size and control we are promoting healthy living, saying that class can be found in the food choices we make. Essentially, in order to take away the stigma of wealth and junk food we must reassociate it to wealth and health food.

While many other celebrities are joining this bandwagon, some coming under similar scrutiny for their choices, it may take some time for this new idea of healthy living to really take hold in nations that are just reaching the peak of their development, such as Brazil. These healthy meals are grown in the farms of Brazil, supporting local business and people in the neighborhood, and these choices will not only make for a better person, but a better community as a whole.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: NPR, CNN
Photo: NPR

obesity
In 2010, the Global Burden of Disease published a study that pointed to obesity as a more widespread health problem than world hunger. The study stated that about 30 percent of the global population was overweight or obese and that the latter caused approximately 5 percent of all deaths.

The problem of transitioning from widespread hunger to widespread obesity tends to occur in island countries termed ‘banana republics’, or those known for their direct economical dependence on trade relations with developed nations. Said dependence leads to a massive overconsumption of processed foods imported from the West and soaring rates of obesity.

A poster child for this phenomenon is Nauru: a Pacific island whose people were starving until a U.K. company discovered the country’s potential for phosphate mining. What followed the invariable economic boom was a precipitous rise in average weights as fast food largely replaced the Nauruans’ fresh fish and tropical fruits. Today, approximately 94 percent of Nauru’s population is overweight.

Unfortunately, banning fast foods will not solve the problem. Companies such as Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds have such tremendous political and economic clout that illegalizing their products would mean eliminating thousands of (barely) paid jobs and “food” products that nonetheless quell starvation.

Powerful as they are though, their products make it possible for a person to be obese and undernourished simultaneously. No impoverished individual is going to look at the nutritional labels on food, however deceptive they may be, if she is holding her first meal in a week.

The saddest part is that so-called banana republics cannot afford to buy their own food. Between the menaces of deforestation, immoral trading practices, and perpetuated poverty, their people are increasingly dependent upon foreign aid for unhealthy imports and foodstuffs each year.

If the current rate holds, nearly half of the world’s adult population will weigh in above a healthy range by 2030. The number will rise most prominently in industrialized regions compared to rural; already that trend has taken ahold of India and China.

What lies at the heart of the epidemic is widespread addiction to a substance of which large swaths of peoples’ ancestors were once deprived. It takes several generations, if ever, for their descendants’ brains to catch up to the sudden abundance. Until then, they subconsciously perceive the unhealthy food as a rare, invaluable delicacy and gorge down as much of it as possible.

Education is not enough to stop the obesity epidemic because emotion will always trump logic. The first step to solving the problem does not lie with educators or the educated; it lies with policy-makers.

It is policy-makers who are capable of manipulating the market such that island nations’ exports fetch a higher price on the market so that their people do not have to resort exclusively to fast food. If they have no other feasible options given their budgets, education would be completely useless.

Because people choose which foods to consume based on emotion, educators need to employ compassion. Psychology studies have shown that people are less likely to make unhealthy food choices when their self-esteem is intact. Eating is a social activity, so it is important to also share meals with supportive individuals. Lastly, healthier foods also tend to have more natural ingredients. If there are three or more unpronounceable, unrecognizable ingredients on the nutrition label, don’t buy that product.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: ASAHI, Flagler Live, Psychology Today
Photo: Challenged Kids International

obesity and food insecurity
According to nutrition epidemiologist Barry Popkin, in roughly 15 years, obesity rates in Mexico among men and women went from a small proportion of each population to 65 and 71 percent, respectively. Mexico’s situation is part of a trend of increasing obesity on a global scale. Around 2.1 billion people in the world are now either obese or overweight.

Because more than half of all the world’s obese and overweight live in fewer than 20 countries—developed countries, mostly—the temptation exists to disregard obesity’s impact on many developing countries.

However, one study found that “obesity rates tripled in developing countries between 1980 and 2008,” whereas it only increased by about half that amount in developed ones.

Developing countries tend to struggle with high levels of food insecurity, though, which one might assume would lead to lower weights, not obesity. Researchers are perplexed as to how the two factors— obesity and food insecurity —can coexist and they have been searching for data that will establish correlation, causation or both.

The recently released Global Food Security Index, which just added a new obesity indicator to its model, studies the matter in detail. Its overall conclusion affirms that co-existence is possible. Despite the correlation, it remains that the relationship between obesity and food security/insecurity is still poorly understood on a global scale.

The index helps to explain the presence of obesity in highly food insecure countries by noting differences between classes. It is the wealthier classes in developing countries, which are more food secure, that have experienced the largest increases in obesity (often after switching to more Western lifestyles).

The study also points out that obesity is increasing among the poor, as well, and experts have proposed various explanations for this phenomenon.

Some maintain the poor have to rely on high-calorie, low-nutrient food, which leads to obesity. Others look to “feast-famine cycles” for answers: poor populations swing between binging and starving—a cycle that changes one’s metabolism. Still others say obesity among the poor is rising because obesity is a wealth-indicator for the poor.

Causality remains exceedingly difficult to prove, though, because many factors, such as diet, wealth and level of physical activity, can all help cause obesity. Moreover, even correlation has been hard to establish in every developing country. In fact, studies in Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago show food insecurity correlated with lower weights, but results from studies in Malaysia were more complex.

Thus, no conclusion can be drawn as to what single factor is causing obesity in developing countries. It may be that no such factor exists.

Nevertheless, researchers will continue to search for causes. Three million people die every year from health problems that obesity contributes to. Researchers know that if they can pin down the causes of obesity, it could help to save the lives of millions.

Ryan Yanke

Sources: Global Food Security Index, Scientific American, Huffington Post, Reuters
Photo: Today Online

global food security index
Last May, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published its annual DuPont-commissioned Global Food Security Index (GFSI). The index aims to “provide a robust and consistent analytical framework for measuring and deepening the understanding of food insecurity around the globe.”

The index showed that food security in 70 percent of countries increased from 2012 to 2013. In that time span, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger decreased from 868 million to 842 million, with a 17 percent decline over the past 24 years.

However, the index also highlighted numerous obstacles inhibiting the growth of food security that both poor and rich countries have yet to surmount.

One hundred nine countries were ranked. The top five, in order, were the United States, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway (tied with the Netherlands) and Singapore. The bottom five were Burundi, Togo, Madagascar, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of all 109 countries, Uganda saw the biggest increase and Myanmar saw the biggest decrease in food security.

To determine these rankings, the GFSI incorporates three categories: Affordability, Availability and Quality & Safety.

The Affordability category incorporates measures like food consumption as a percentage of household expenditure, the proportion of a country’s population living under the $2 dollar per day global poverty line and import tariffs on agricultural goods. This category, a combination of six indicators, seeks to determine the degree to which people can purchase nutritional food without depleting their financial resources. In the top performing countries (U.S. and Singapore), people spent less than 15 percent of their budget on food.

This all matters little if food is affordable, but unavailable, so the GFSI assesses how easily people can access food as well. Acquiring the food one needs can be difficult in countries plagued by corruption, a lack of infrastructure and unpredictable agricultural outputs. Low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa scored the lowest in Availability, though the region experienced a notable increase in overall food security.

Lastly, the GFSI analyzes the quality and safety of diets in different countries. It looks at the availability of micronutrients like vitamin A and vegetal iron, protein quality and diet diversification, among other indicators.

According to the index, the majority of countries made gains in Affordability, but many countries lost points in Availability and Quality & Safety. In many countries grouped in the “Asia & Pacific” region, food indeed became more affordable, but only because diet diversification had been markedly reduced.

Two new indicators were added this year: food loss as part of the Availability category and obesity as part of the Quality & Safety category. Both have been controversial in recent years. In India, for example, a lack of food-chain infrastructure results in tremendous food loss—as much as 25 percent of produce every year.

Furthermore, obesity has become a growing concern even in countries with high food insecurity, though experts are still at a loss to explain this phenomenon.

The upshot of the index seems positive, with food security increasing in most countries. Despite this progress, areas for improvement have been pointed out. For one, women farmers across the globe still lack the same access to education, land and machinery that men have. Moreover, governments in developing countries are still struggling to make food more affordable without sacrificing dietary quality.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: Economist, Blouin News, Dupont, Global Food Security Index
Photo: BlouInNews blog

Nutrients for All
The world is presently facing a nutritional crisis. Over 2 billion people across the globe are malnourished. Both poor and rich countries alike are suffering from a nutrient crisis. Over a third of the United States population is suffering from obesity. Nutrients for All is an initiative to help repair this nutritional problem by carrying out a design called the nutrient value chain, which is the link between soil, farm, food and people.

Obesity is linked to diabetes and heart disease, which are growing problems. Recent studies show that there is a link between pregnant women suffering from malnourishment, which may cause obesity later in life. Access to the foods needed for proper nourishment has become a global problem. Many developing countries are living on nutrient-less subsidized diets.

Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, is working with Nutrients for All to help fight major social, environmental and economic concerns. Ashoka is a global network that whose goal is to bring these innovative ideas around the world.

Ashoka and other organization leaders from around the world are putting unconventional agricultural and management techniques to the test to help fight the global need for proper nutrients. These organizations implement plans that enrich soils in ways that nourish both crops and local ecological systems. This helps nourish communities and produce the right foods to farm. There are many factors that Ashoka and Nutrients for All entails for success.

The Nutrients for All soil plan includes reducing topsoil erosion, providing nutrient-rich food for local, regional and global supply chains, stabilizing and increasing recharge of groundwater and watersheds and reducing pollution and sanitation problems from industrial and residential sources.

These factors create a better understanding of soil management, and are used to help strengthen developing countries‘ economies and the well-being of those people.

The transformations of the economy provides proof that the Nutrients for All is a successful and innovative plan. Communities are more prepared for weather and natural disasters. Human vitality increases and communities share a lack of diseases across the board. More economic and food choices are brought to each community where Nutrients for All has been placed.

Nutrients for All wants to engage women farmers to produce not only for their household, but as a means to increases household income. A study performed by Ashoka staff shows that for a household with female farmers, the income and well-being increases 11 times.

One way we can take action to help get Nutrients for All’s message out is to empower others with new information. Either by being a consumer or practitioner, providing this information about nutrient conscious decisions for not only yourself, but for those around you, benefits everyone.

Help from sources like Nutrients for All can help change not only the way we eat, but the way we live. The evidence of the link between health and food is shown in the rising rates of cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Nutrients for All, Nutrients for Life

global obesity
Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, recently stated that obesity has become a bigger threat to global health than tobacco use.

Believing that there should be stricter regulations on consuming unhealthy foods, De Schutter gave a speech during the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual summit and expressed concern that the world has not been actively tackling the issue of obesity. The WHO established the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health 10 years ago, but the global obesity epidemic is still expanding. Diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-induced health complications have become more prevalent as a result. To counter the growing issue of global obesity, De Schutter declared, “a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.”

Many international groups agree with De Schutter’s comments. Though the Food and Drink Federation has stated that the food industry is making clear efforts to provide healthier meal options, organizations like Consumer International and the World Obesity Federation are demanding the adoption of compulsory guidelines for the food and drink industry to follow. In 2005, the number of global deaths caused by obesity and being overweight was 2.6 million. The same figure had risen to 3.4 million by 2010.

The proposed rules include reducing the levels of sodium, saturated fat and sugar in various foods. Artificial trans-fats were recommended to be completely removed from all food and drink products in the next five years. Organizations have also asked for improved meals in hospital and schools, stricter guidelines for food advertising and increased efforts to educate the public about healthy eating. Governments could help control the global obesity issue as well by introducing taxes, changing licensing controls, funding new research projects and reviewing the prices of different food items.

If implemented, these new guidelines would be at the “highest level of global agreement.” In contrast to the current practice of “opting out” of imposed regulations on the food industry, governments would be required to enforce them. Dr. Ian Campbell, the founder of the United Kingdom’s National Obesity Forum, says that the proposed recommendations are within reason. “The inescapable fact is obesity is killing on a massive scale and only action from governments to tackle head-on the fundamental causes of obesity will lead to any meaningful decreases.”

Obesity has long been linked to poverty. The majority of overweight and obese people can be found in developing rather than developed countries. North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have nearly the same percentage of obese people as Europe does.

Currently, people living far below the poverty line rely on cheap, processed foods that are high in fats and sugars. Compared to diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, these unhealthy meals have high energy content per dollar spent, making them more convenient and accessible to the poor. In South Africa, a typical healthy meal costs approximately 69 percent more than an unhealthy one. For households living in extreme poverty, pursuing a healthy diet could take away up to 30 percent of the total income.

Placing taxes on unhealthy foods could help combat the problem. Collective action is crucial. “If obesity was an infectious disease,” stated World Obesity Federation’s Dr. Tim Lobstein, “we would have seen billions of dollars being invested in bringing it under control.”

– Kristy Liao

Sources: BBC, Huffington Post, Time
Photo: Earth Times