1.4 How does food interface with societal and health concerns?

1.4.1 Food system interactions with health and society.

Populations and dietary patterns are changing.

Source: FCRN. See side panel for references.

Large numbers of people are employed in agriculture and post-harvest industries. In poor countries, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, a dominant percentage of the population continues to rely on agriculture and associated rural activities for their livelihoods.

The global population is growing, and diets are changing. These trends, the link between food and health, the health implications of changing dietary patterns, and understanding about what constitutes a healthy sustainable diet are issues covered in Chapter 7, Chapter 8 and Chapter 9.

1.4.2 Persistence of inequality and its contribution to malnutrition in all its forms.

Contrasts & inequalities

See the side panel for references.

Malnutrition in all its forms exist.

Malnutrition manifests itself in the form of excessive consumption (leading to overweight and obesity) in protein and energy deficiencies (leading to hunger and underweight) and through micronutrient deficiencies which cause a range of problems, including iron deficiency anaemia, neural tube defects and osteoporosis, to name but a few.

These problems coexist within as well as across communities. Large numbers of people are still chronically undernourished while globally, obesity is on the rise and causes a range of health problems. Poor diets can also lead to non communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes independently of the link with obesity.

Micronutrient deficiencies affect billions of people across the world, and across the weight spectrum.

At the same time, the population is still growing, at a rate of around 80 million per year. The population is not just growing but also urbanising – more than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas.

Nearly 20% of the global population are still engaged directly or indirectly in food production for their livelihoods, but much of the industry is controlled by a small number of stakeholders. This control affects how the food system functions. This has implications for small scale producers, processors, retailers and caterers; it influences the types of foods that are marketed and available – and their price – and it influences what changes in consumer habits might be possible. The influences on consumption and the options for shifting them are covered in more detail in Chapter 10.

1.4.3 Changing populations and dietary patterns.

  • Growing population: 9–10bn by 2050
  • Changing population:
  • Urbanisation: 54% of global population is urban, 66% by 2050
  • Africa & Asia urbanising fastest
  • Young in some areas, ageing in others, globalising
  • Rising (average) incomes leading to:
    • Changing lifestyles
    • Dietary changes, with trend towards “Western diet”: “the nutrition transition” (see Chapter 7 for more)
    • Changing burden of diseases (e.g. increased obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and some cancers)
  • But: persistent poverty

The global population now stands at over 7 billion, and is predicted to reach 9–10 billion by 2050. Additionally, our eating patterns are changing, with a shift towards greater quantities of animal products in the diet. See Chapter 4, Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 for more on this.

Per capita demand for major food commodities will increase by 2050

Alexandratos, N. and Bruinsma, J. (2012) World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. ESA Working paper No. 12-03. Rome, FAO
Alexandratos N. and Bruinsma J. (2012).

Based on current trajectories, with rising incomes in developing countries, global food consumption per capita is projected to rise.

In developed countries, meat consumption is not expected to rise much further, if at all since intakes are already high. The majority of the increase will be in developing countries. (For more on meat consumption see Chapter 4 and Chapter 8).

FAO predicts that, in order to feed the world’s growing population, food production will need to increase by 60%, and that the demand for meat will nearly double, by 2050.

Some organisations challenge the ‘need’ for this increase – e.g. see Soil Association (2010). Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production, Soil Association, Bristol, UK. For more on this dispute, see Chapter 4.

Increased demand for food is predicted to continue

Alexandratos, N. and Bruinsma, J. (2012) World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. ESA Working paper No. 12-03. Rome, FAO
Alexandratos and Bruinsma (2012).