15 Aug Malnutrition solutions bring health and environmental benefits
The double burden of malnutrition – the presence of both undernutrition and overweight/obesity – poses a critical global health challenge, leading to non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. A recent article in Nature Food proposed an integrated framework to analyse the dynamics of the double burden of malnutrition and its health and environmental impacts. This framework helps predict overweight and obesity trends, assesses factors driving future BMI increases and resource use, and simulates alternative scenarios to understand the impacts of changing diets on health, environment, prices, and food security.
The authors found that excess calorie availability above energy requirements will significantly increase by 2050. Excessive calorie availability positively correlated with higher adult BMI, intensifying across generations. In particular, the authors estimate South Asia may experience a 7.7% increase in type 2 diabetes incidence by 2050 due to increased BMI, with a 31% increase in China, and a 25% increase in the United States and Canada.
The research also highlighted health and environmental co-benefits of healthier diets. Projected adoption of healthy dietary guidelines or flexitarian diets led to reduced adult BMI for both men and women, with men’s BMI being more sensitive to diet changes. The resulting change in food demand would lead to lower crop prices, reduced crop production, and less cropland conversion, as well as reducing undernutrition in developing Asian and African regions.
Interestingly, the study found that reducing overall food demand (food waste and excessive intake) has a greater impact on reducing pressure on cropland expansion and improving food affordability than changes in diet composition (e.g., reducing livestock demand). This aligns with SNi messaging that overconsumption beyond nutritional need should be seen as a form of waste, with great gains to be made from its reduction. The projected shift towards more plant-based and healthier diets contributed to a substantial reduction in global livestock-related emissions (48%) and crop-related emissions (about 52%) compared to the 2050 baseline. While the study solely focused on calorie demand and its association with adult BMI, it highlights the significance of adopting a synergistic approach to address various aspects of food purchasing behaviour to effectively mitigate the projected increase in diet-related health and environmental burdens.
This SNippet was written by Ejovi Abafe, a PhD Fellow in the SNi team.
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