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Sustainable diets a must to improve health of humans and planet

Immediate action to promote sustainable diets has been called for (© FAO/Seyllou Diallo)
Immediate action to promote sustainable diets has been called for
© FAO/Seyllou Diallo

Immediate action to promote sustainable diets - those with low environmental impacts which also contribute to food and nutrition security - has been urged in a new book published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Bioversity International. "The health of humans cannot be isolated from the health of ecosystems," says Barbara Burlingame, principal officer of FAO's nutrition and consumer protection division, in the preface. She adds that to address the food and nutrition needs of a more urbanised and growing world population, while preserving natural and productive resources, food systems have to undergo radical transformations towards more efficiency in the use of resources, and more efficiency and equity in the consumption of food.

According to the authors of one chapter in Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity, more than 900 million people in the world are undernourished, over 2 billion people are afflicted by micronutrient deficiencies and over 1 billion adults are overweight. "Regardless of the many successes of agriculture in the last three decades, it is clear that food systems and diets, are not sustainable," Burlingame writes.

Director-General of Bioversity International, Emile Frison, states that maize, wheat and rice currently provide 60 per cent of the calorie intake of plants globally: "Such a degree of diet simplification is alarming. This requires us to move beyond the major staples and to look at the many hundreds and thousands of neglected and underutilized plant and animal species that mean the difference between an unsustainable and sustainable diet," he states. "The role that biodiversity can play in addressing the problems of malnutrition has been underestimated, understudied and deserves much more attention."

"Sustainable diets can address the consumption of foods with lower water and carbon footprints, and promote the use of food biodiversity, including traditional and local foods, with their many nutritionally rich species and varieties," Burlingame adds. "They can also contribute to the transition to nutrition-sensitive and climate-smart agriculture and nutrition-driven food systems."

Date published: August 2012

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