FAO Director-General inaugurates the World Sustainable Urban Food Centre (CEMAS)

Graziano da Silva: "There are already more obese than hungry people in the world"

22 July 2019, Valencia (Spain) - FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva urged cities around the world today to redouble their efforts to promote healthier and more sustainable urban diets and food systems to tackle the increasing levels of overweight and obesity.

"There are already more obese people than hungry people in the world. People are increasingly eating badly, and the main reason is that current food systems encourage the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are high in salt, sugar, saturated fats and artificial ingredients,” he said, warning of the rising “pandemic” of obesity in the five continents.

This type of food, he said, is cheaper, more accessible and easier to prepare than fresh food, particularly for the population of the suburbs and rural areas.

In general, he said, when the resources are scarce, people tend to choose less expensive foods, which are usually "very high in calories but not very nutritious".

The FAO Director-General stressed that processed foods also fare better in international markets: “This particularly affects the population of countries that must import most of the food, as in the case of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and some countries in Africa," he said. "This is the reason behind the high obesity levels in the Caribbean and Pacific islands, where the average rate is 60 and 70 percent, respectively."

Graziano da Silva made his remarks at the launch of the World Sustainable Urban Food Centre (CEMAS), chaired by Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain, FAO’s Special Ambassador for Nutrition. The President of the Generalitat Valenciana Ximo Puig and the Mayor of Valencia Joan Ribó also participated in the event.

CEMAS is an initiative of the city of Valencia, with technical support from FAO, to strengthen, advise and coordinate cities around the world in management and exchange of knowledge on sustainable local food systems.

The new centre will also carry out dissemination and public awareness activities on issues related to food, nutrition, the fight against hunger, climate change and food systems.

"There is a broad medical consensus that obesity is a risk factor for the development of many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart diseases, heart attacks, diabetes and even some types of cancer," the FAO chief warned.

Promoting local circuits of food production and consumption

Graziano da Silva called for an “urgent transformation” of food systems to ensure that they provide healthy and nutritious food for all, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity.

“We need to integrate actions and create local circuits of production and consumption. There are many issues the local production depends upon, such as laws, research and academic centres, and we need to approach all of them. The transformation must be integral,” he added.

Cities, said Graziano da Silva, have a fundamental role to play, noting that "to combat obesity there are many effective measures, but the fundamental factor is that fresh and healthy foods are available for the consumption of their citizens."

The FAO Director-General stressed that local authorities “can and should promote local markets” so that the healthiest option - fresh food - is also the “most accessible to consumers.”

At the time of rapid urbanization, he said, cities are becoming increasingly important agents of change, also in terms of policies and measures aimed at providing access to healthy food.

Linkages between local production and good nutrition

"We know that there is a close relationship between local production of family farmers and good nutrition," the FAO chief said. "It is no coincidence that the UN Decade of Family Farming and the Decade of Action on Nutrition are being implemented at the same time.”

That is why, he added, it is important to offer family farmers a better access to services, infrastructure and markets.

"We must also create the conditions for city dwellers to consume more fresh and nutritious food, based on short food chains as well as urban and peri-urban agriculture."

Hunger keeps going up

The FAO Director-General referred to the data released in the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, which warns that more than 820 million people continue to suffer from hunger in the world.

"I hope that in the next few years we can make more progress, because the goal of Zero Hunger is still possible. We can do it,” he said.

Photo: ©Ayuntamiento de Valencia
Inauguration of the World Center for Sustainable Food Systems (CEMAS) in Valencia, Spain.