by C. Alessandro Mauceri –
There are more than three billion (3.1) people who cannot afford a “healthy diet”. That is to say a diet that provides essential nutrients for health as well as the right caloric intake. This is what emerges from the report recently presented by FAO. “Providing enough food to survive is not enough: what people eat must also be nutritious,” said David Laborde, director of FAO’s Agri-Food Economics Division.
A state of affairs that has been influenced by the increase in food prices. In more than 50 countries, about half of the people do not have the resources to obtain healthy food. But in some countries in Africa and Asia this percentage can reach 90 percent!
The considerable increase in food prices was caused by several factors. The global pandemic has affected all countries, but the worst damage is done by the poorest ones. To this, in 2022, was added the war in Ukraine, one of the main suppliers of grain in the world. Even the economic sanctions on Russia have increased the price of many products: fertilizers, oil and gas. And they’ve made it more expensive to produce food. The war has caused severe food insecurity and increased the cost of grain and all related products.
Oddly enough, the average daily cost of a healthy diet has grown more in less developed countries, where the cost of living should be lower. They range from 3.89 dollars per person in Latin America, to 3.72 dollars in Asia, to 3.46 dollars in Africa, to “only” 3.19 dollars in North America and Europe (3.14 dollars in Italy) and at $3.07 in Oceania.
As always the most affected are the little ones. This is confirmed by the UNICEF report “Undernourished and overlooked”. Worldwide, 51 million children under the age of 2 suffer from stunted growth: due to malnutrition, their bodies are unable to grow as they should. About half of them become stunted between pregnancy and the first six months of life, the 500-day period in which a baby is completely dependent on maternal nutrition. In South Asia and sub-Saharan African countries, 2 out of 3 adolescent girls are underweight and 3 out of 5 suffer from anemia. In the twelve African countries most affected by hunger, the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from acute malnutrition increased by 25 percent from 5.5 million to 6.9 million. Girls and women from the poorest households are twice as likely to be underweight as those from the richest households. Bad nutrition is often “passed down” from generation to generation. In countries such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen, lack of adequate food and essential nutrients is having a disastrous impact on the health of entire communities.
Even developed, high-income countries are not excluded from this scourge. In Italy, almost 3 percent of the population (1.7 million) cannot guarantee a healthy diet. A worrying situation but which is not much better in other European countries: in Spain for example this percentage is 2 per cent, in the United Kingdom 0.5 per cent. Malnutrition remains one of the greatest threats to both the health of children and their mothers: cases of anemia among girls, for example, are on the rise in Western Europe and North America.
Eating “badly” doesn’t just mean malnutrition. It often means overweight and obesity. There are currently 2.6 billion people in the world who are overweight or obese, 38 percent of the world‘s population. But their number is destined to grow rapidly: according to the World Obesity Atlas 2023 of the World Obesity Federation, by 2035 they could become 4 billion. And, once again, children and adolescents would be at the greatest risk. Not only in rich countries, but also in many poor countries around the world. This is where the biggest increases in obesity are taking place: Of the ten countries most likely to face obesity in the next few years, nine are low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia.
A critical situation that sees the possibility of achieving one of the most important objectives of sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals, disappearing.