IFPRI releases report on ‘sustainable healthy diets’ – The Fence Post

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The International Food Policy Research Institute on Tuesday released a report calling for “urgent and concerted efforts to transform global food systems to ensure equitable access to sustainable healthy diets for everyone.”

The report was written by 41 researchers from IPFRI and partner organizations.

At a launch event at the IFPRI headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, several researchers and commentators talked about the importance of the issue but also discussed its complications and attracting the attention of policymakers.

Lynette Neufeld of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said that it is hard to convince policymakers to make diet a priority compared with reducing stunted growth rates in children.

Marie Ruel, a senior IFPRI fellow and one of the authors, said that two billion people worldwide are affected by micronutrient deficiencies, while 2.2 billion people are overweight or obese.

Diets in low-income countries are shifting from being cereal-based to a higher consumption of ultraprocessed foods and animal-sourced foods, Ruel added.

There is evidence that ultraprocessed foods are associated with poor quality diets and disease, but it is unclear whether the problem is the nutrient composition or the processing or a combination of the two, Ruel said.

Without clarity on the problems in ultraprocessed foods, “we are not going to be able to approach the industry,” Ruel said.

“We have a lot of challenges in the measurement of food systems,” she added.

Gabriela Fretes, another IFPRI scholar and author, said new opportunities for women to earn incomes has led to an increased demand for convenience while supply chains for fresh foods are long and fragmented with poor temperature and storage conditions.

Countries in the Americas have implemented front-of-pack labeling on consumer processed foods, restrictions on marketing and taxes, but little is known about how they work, Fretes added.

Danielle Resnick, another IFPRI fellow and author, said micronutrient fortification could improve health outcomes while trade protectionism could help build up the domestic horticulture sector.

Soumya Swaminathan, an Indian scholar, said that “there is no silver bullet, no quick fix” to improving diet because the issues are spread among so many different agencies in each country.

It’s also important to pay attention to nondietary issues “of how one remains healthy,” she added.

While there are environmental concerns about animal-sourced protein, Namukolo Covic, head of the African Nutrition Society, said some populations including small children need to increase consumption of animal-sourced protein. Milk reduces stunting, and it’s likely eggs do, too, Covic added.

African countries “struggle with low productivity” in the animal industry, she said.

Chris Barrett of Cornell University said that defining what it means “for a product to be unhealthy” is “clearly unsettled terrain.” Much of the appeal of what are called unhealthy foods is convenience, he added.

Barrett said it is important to recognize that 70% of food that is consumed is produced in the same country and that supply needs to be increased in those countries, particularly of healthy foods, which are disproportionately expensive.

The biggest success, he noted, has come from genetic improvement in plants and animals. Measurement has overemphasized yield in comparison with health and environmental consequences, he added.

Shelly Sundberg of the Gates Foundation said researchers know much more about how to decrease the consumption of unhealthy foods than about increasing the consumption of healthy foods.

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