The planet is facing a global health crisis, with over-processed junk food and/or lack of access to healthy food contributing to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other food-related diseases. According to UNICEF, “not a single country has made progress in decreasing levels of overweight and obesity in the past 20 years.”
Malnutrition is the culprit. Millions of people are suffering from different forms of malnutrition. In fact, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese while 462 million are underweight.
“Malnutrition is a complex issue, but it is the main cause of death and disease in the world,” states Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO, “Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.” The term addresses three broad conditions:
- Undernutrition – this includes wasting (low weight-for-height), stunting (low height-for-age) and underweight (low weight-for-age);
- A lack of, or too many, important vitamins and minerals;
- Overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers).
Dr. Branca reports, “One of the biggest barriers is availability of the right food, which is still dictated by the large producers. We need to find a way of engaging with the food industry to change the content of food products.”
Though there are several factors involved with our global health crisis, providing healthy food to those who need it is the best way to decrease and reverse malnutrition. And what better way to do this than to support communities in growing their own fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains so they can share this healthy food – for free – to anyone in need?
As Dr. Branca states, the availability of healthy food is the biggest barrier to ending this health crisis, and that barrier is dictated by large companies and producers. Even if large producers and companies committed to producing healthier, more nutrient dense food, it would literally take years for the shift to happen.
As advocates and health professionals work to change the food system from the top down, right now neighborhood residents can come together and grow healthy, whole food ultra-locally on front lawns, in backyard gardens, in public and private spaces for all to share and enjoy for free. The way we solve our global health crisis is community by community. Neighborhood by neighborhood. And it is happening now.