FAO in North America

Nutrition and Food Systems in the time of COVID-19


23 April 2019, Washington, DC/ Rome – What are the impacts of COVID-19 on our food systems, diets and our health? This was the focus of the second FAO Insights webinar session featuring Anna Lartey, Director of the Nutrition and Food Systems Division at FAO. The session was widely attended with over 300 participants joining from different sectors and over 50 countries. FAO Insights is a new webinar series launched by FAO North America to share FAO’s knowledge and expertise with the North American public and beyond.

“Inadequate diets lead to malnutrition, which weakens our immune function,” said Dr. Lartey as she defined the vicious cycle of malnutrition and infectious disease, noting that COVID-19 causes a higher fatality rate among those with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases, and ageing populations.

“Even before COVID-19, two billion people did not have access to a quality diet,” said Dr. Lartey highlighting the global issue of malnutrition. She noted the different narratives about the failure of our food systems, ranging from the continued existence of hunger for over 820 million people, the inability to deliver healthy diets for all, to the inequitable distribution of benefits, and lack of environmental sustainability.

“COVID-19 is a serious health problem, which impacts food supply and demand, and causes changes in our food environments and diets. COVID-19 threatens to worsen people’s access to healthy diets in multiple ways, while also increasing food loss and waste levels.” Dr. Lartey also highlighted the importance of social protection initiatives taking place such as distributing fruits and vegetables to food insecure families and school feeding kits.

 “Nearly 1.5 billion children – more than half of the world’s student population – are being kept away from school due to pandemic response measures. For many of them, the school lunch is a key contribution to their daily diet,” stressed Dr. Lartey.  

“COVID19 started as a health crisis, but disruptions in food systems and on people’s livelihood could create not only a food crisis, but a nutrition crisis. We need to protect food value chains to secure people’s access to nutritious and healthy diets,” she added. “There could not be a better time to transform our food systems to deliver on nutrition and healthy diets.”

Dr. Lartey emphasized the key role that donors, governments and the private sector have play to increase the investments available for nutrition, while protecting the most vulnerable, in order to keep the gains in global nutrition we have made thus far.

FAO is supporting Member Countries to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food security, nutrition, and livelihoods, especially for smallholder farmers. FAO is also leading the discussion on mitigating the impact of the pandemic on global food trade, food value chains, food waste, social protection, maintaining a healthy diet, among other aspects.  

Watch the session (Password: 2O&hq+9!).

Read FAO’s policy briefs related to COVID-19.