The World Faces A "Joint Pandemic" Of Three Huge Threats – And There's One Thing To Blame

The global “joint pandemic” of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change all have their roots in one thing: a broken global food system misguided by profits and power. Alf Ribeiro/Shutterstock

Leading scientists are warning about a global “joint pandemic” of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change, all of which are deeply interwoven into one thing: a broken global food system misguided by profits and power.

The Lancet's Commission on Obesity, a three-year project led by 26 experts, has just released a major new report looking at how to tackle this joint pandemic, which they call The Global Syndemic. This trio of problems have often been treated as independent threats, but the commission argues that the cause – and solutions – can be found in the way we farm, distribute, and consume food.

In short, it argues the current food system encourages food production that is bad for our health and bad for the planet, so something needs to change.

“Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes,” report co-commissioner Professor Boyd Swinburn of the University of Auckland said in a statement.

“Climate change has the same story of profits and power ignoring the environmental damage caused by current food systems, transportation, urban design, and land use," he added. "Joining the three pandemics together as The Global Syndemic allows us to consider common drivers and shared solutions, with the aim of breaking decades of policy inertia.”

To fix the monolithic problem, the world needs “a radical rethink” of business models and global food systems. As per the report, world leaders need to push back against the clout of commercial interest by removing the political and economic incentives that reward the over-production and over-consumption of food. Equally, there needs to be sturdy subsidization of efficient and healthy food production.

They hope to achieve this by establishing a Framework Convention on Food Systems (FCFS), much like the global conventions for tobacco control and climate change, which can orchestrate a global plan and set targets for governments. Just like tobacco control conventions, the industry would be excluded from policy development in order to remove profit-driven commercial interest.

“Although food clearly differs from tobacco because it is necessary to support human life, unhealthy food and beverages are not. The similarities with Big Tobacco lie in the damage they induce and the behaviors of the corporations that profit from them,” Professor William Dietz, who co-chaired the Commission, said in a separate statement.

“A Framework Convention on Food Systems would help empower individual nations against vested commercial interests, redirect the vast subsidies that currently benefit unhealthy industries, and provide full transparency.” 

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