Knowledge for better food systems

Obesity, undernutrition, and climate change

Image: PDPics, Potato chips, Pixabay, Pixabay License

This report from The Lancet Commission identifies the drivers behind what it terms ‘The Global Syndemic’, i.e. co-occurring pandemics, of obesity, undernutrition and climate change. The report finds that no country has successfully reversed its epidemic of obesity because the underlying causes have not been solved.

The Commission argues that some actions to tackle all three pandemics, such as dietary guidelines that incorporate environmental considerations, have failed due to lobbying from various food industry actors.

To tackle obesity, undernutrition and climate change, the Commission recommends using international human rights law to protect a ‘right to wellbeing’, which, as shown in the figure below, encompasses several different sets of rights including the right to food and the right to health.

Image: Figure 4, The Lancet Commission. Intersection of human rights that comprise the overarching right to wellbeing framework.

It also calls for strong processes to manage conflicts of interest between commercial actors and policymakers, new business models that promote both human and environmental health, and redirecting of government subsidies away from fossil fuels and food sectors that drive the syndemic towards relatively sustainable energy and food sectors.

Some media coverage of and responses to the report can be found here:

Read the full report, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report, here. See also the Foodsource building block What is the nutrition transition?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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