FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Deep shift in food systems needed to ensure healthy diets

FAO Director-General calls for the transformation of production and consumption models to combat hunger, obesity and other forms of malnutrition.

FAO Director-General taking part in Congreso Futuro in Chile. Photo: Max Valencia

15 January 2019 Santiago de Chile - Hunger, obesity and other forms of malnutrition will continue to increase if there is no deep change in food systems, said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva.

He took part in Congreso Futuro, the most important scientific dissemination event in Latin America, together with international experts dedicated to promoting healthy and sustainable food systems.

He said that the problem of hunger and overweight in the world is not the lack of food, but the lack of access to healthy and nutritious food for the entire population. "The paradox is that today we have almost the same number of hungry people as obese people and the latter figure is growing rapidly," he noted.

According to the latest FAO report, in 2017 there were 821 million undernourished people in the world, equal to 10.9 percent of the global population. Meanwhile, adult obesity affected 13.3 percent of the adult population in 2016, equivalent to 672 million people.

FAO’s Director General stressed that the reason behind the increase in both hunger and obesity is that our food systems are not providing healthy diets. "The current food systems do not work, they are designed for something other than guaranteeing good nutrition. Our challenge is to redesign them,” he said.

Graziano da Silva stressed that obesity should be addressed through public policy and not treated only as an individual problem. "The problem of obesity is more complex than that of hunger. Hunger is confined to specific areas, especially those hit by conflicts, droughts and extreme poverty, but obesity is everywhere and continues to grow throughout the world,” he said.

Food systems, he explained, encompass the chain and links stretching from soils, production an dstorage to distribution and even beyond retail consumption both in homes and restaurants. "There is a part that is not visible and that is the one that has more power, a 'superstructure' that conditions healthy diets. I refer to institutions, laws and regulatory frameworks,” he said.

Graziano da Silva recalled that, at the global level, the main causes of hunger are armed conflicts and the impact of climate change. "Today, 60 percent of people who are hungry are in countries affected by conflicts and 40 percent are in countries that have suffered from drought, one of the most devastating phenomena for production," he said.

Graziano da Silva called for rapid and decisive joint action with governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and research. "We all have a role to play to ensure food security," he said.

Rosana Oliveira, who has done his research in plant-based foods; Rabi Mohtar, an expert in Agricultural Technology and Management Systems, and the Director of the Food Policy Center of the University of London, Corinna Hawkes, also participated in the panel.