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

What is the Global Food Security Index?
The Global Food Security Index ranks 105 countries according to their access to affordable, available and quality food.  The index was launched in 2012 by The Economist – Intelligence Unit (EIU) with sponsorship from the DuPont Corporation. The index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative scoring model, constructed from 25 unique indicators which measure drivers of food security across both developing and developed countries.

Food security is defined as the state in which people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy and active life based on the definition established at the 1996 World Food Summit. The overall goal of the study is to assess which countries are most and least vulnerable to food insecurity through the categories of Affordability, Availability, and Quality and Safety.

Beginning in October 2012, the EIU began updating the index on a quarterly basis to adjust for the impact of fluctuating food prices. This food price adjustment factor is applied to each country’s Affordability score and is based on changes in income growth and global and domestic food prices. Over time, countries’ scores improve if food prices fall, and deteriorate if prices rise. The country-specific adjustments and their goal of translating fluctuations in global food prices to the national level result in different levels of score changes for each country, with vulnerable countries hurt the most by rising prices.

All scores are normalized on a scale of 0-100 where 100=most favorable. There are scores based on three categories: 1. Affordability, 2. Availability, and 3. Quality and Safety.

As of the first quarter of 2013, the top three scores and the bottom three scores in each category are as follows:


Top three countries: USA (95.2), Australia (92.4), Switzerland (91.5)

Bottom three countries: Madagascar (20.4), DR Congo (17.4), Chad (14.4)


Top three countries: Denmark (92.4), Norway (91.8), France (88.3)

Bottom three countries: Niger (25.0), Haiti (22.4), Chad (21.7)

Quality & Safety

Top three countries: France (90.2), Israel (90.2), USA (89.3)

Bottom three countries: Togo (22.7), Ethiopia (20.0), DR Congo (16.1)

In a report titled ‘The Global Food Security Index 2012: An assessment of food affordability, availability and quality’, the EIU found that there is a positive correlation between countries with good food security and their related policies. Example policies include improving access to financing for local farmers, developing food safety net programs like school feeding programs, investing in agricultural technology, research & development, and promoting nutrition awareness.

Other key findings from the report :

  • The U.S., Denmark, Norway and France are the most food-secure countries in the world.
  • The food supply in advanced countries averages 1,200 calories more per person per day than in low-income economies.
  • Most food secure nations score less well for micronutrient availability.
  • Several of the sub-Saharan African countries that finished in the bottom third of the index, including Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria, will be among the world’s faster-growing economies during the next two years.
  • China experienced the least volatility of agricultural production during the last 20 years, and three North African countries—Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria—among the most.
  • Landlocked countries fared nearly as well as those with a coastline.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Global Food Security Index
Photo: UN Earth News