New Task Force Combats Issues Surrounding Food, Health, and Nutrition

Sarah Small

Early in 2015, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs launched an innovative task force comprised of leaders from the business, nonprofit, policy, and academic communities, focused specifically on addressing global concerns around health, nutrition, and food. The group, co-chaired by Dan Glickman, former United States Secretary of Agriculture, and Douglas Bereuter, former U.S. Representative from Nebraska, is expanding the Council’s Global Agriculture initiative. The task force has been highlighting global health and nutrition in a weekly blog and hosted the Global Food Security Symposium in April in Washington D.C.

The task force’s “Healthy Food for a Healthy World” weekly blog series presents stories on topics concerning connective issues around agriculture, health, food, and nutrition. Features include a wide variety of food, agriculture, health, and nutrition related topics including everything from in-depth examinations of the effects of climate change on global nutrition, to perspectives on food as medicine.

As part of this series, Chicago Council research associate, Louise Iverson, highlighted the extent of global food waste. Iverson writes, “Annual global food loss is estimated at roughly 40–50 percent of root crops, fruits and vegetables; 30 percent of cereals; 20 percent of oilseeds, meat and dairy products; and 35 percent of fish.” The series provides a platform for task force members to share on-going research, highlight pressing issues, and bring new awareness to the intersection of agriculture, food, health, and nutrition.

A new report, “Healthy Food for a Healthy World,” was released on April 16 by the task force. It discusses strategic opportunities for investment in the agricultural sector, which can improve health and reduce malnutrition in the developing world.

The report brings more attention to these issues as well as encourage strategic investment in agriculture in low and middle-income countries. According to the Council, these investments will improve health and reduce malnutrition through informed policies on climate change, science and innovation, international development and non-communicable diseases. The study will lay the ground for integrated approaches to targeting food, health, and nutrition issues among the world’s most marginalized communities.

Additional findings include:

-Rising malnutrition rates, which saddle economies with lower productivity and higher healthcare costs.

-Adults who were undernourished as children earn at least 20 percent less than those that were not.

-Four to nine percent of most countries’ gross domestic product must cover the cost of treating those who are overweight or obese.

-By 2030 the global decline in productivity resulting from chronic disease could cost US$35 trillion.

-More than half of the chronically hungry people in the world are small-scale farmers.

And the report concludes: The global food system can drive economic growth while delivering healthier diets for billions of farming households when there is space for collaboration and innovation. In fact, the global food system can lessen food waste and want while increasing food safety. Global investments in nutrition and agriculture by the U.S. can help build self-reliant and stable nations that are less likely to succumb to conflicts and humanitarian disasters—and create valuable trade partnerships with Asia and Africa.

Bereuter describes, “The agriculture and food system has had great success in increasing production and widening distribution of food to feed a growing population. This task force will provide new thinking on how to leverage the system to continue this success while more greatly improving health and nutrition.” The task force aspires to create change for the 2 billion people who struggle with nutrient deficiency every day through conducting groundbreaking research, developing partnerships, and collaborating with like-minded businesses.