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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


World Food Day, Sustainability and Hidden Hunger

By Michael McBurney

Today is World Food Day. The theme for 2013 is sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition. The objective is to increase awareness of hidden hunger and drive greater collaboration throughout the food chain.

As Andre Croppenstedt, FAO, writes, “While nutritional outcomes depend upon many factors, food systems are a fundamental part of the equation as they determine the quantity, quality, diversity and nutritional content of foods available.” With the world population rapidly approaching 9 billion people, most of whom are opting to live in urban environments, there is increasing urgency to recognize that nutrition and food security is a function of food availability(production and stores), food access (distribution systems, market infrastructure and household purchasing power), food utilization (food and water quality and sanitation), and stability (economic, political and environmental factors). On World Food Day, we recognize that malnutrition can only be resolved through integrated actions.

As the World Food Programme emphasizes, “For many of the 842 million hungry people in the world, the answer is not a hand-out of free food. It’s more about making local food ‘systems’ more productive and reliable so that nutritious food is always available, even to the poorest of the poor. But what is a food system precisely? And how can you make it stronger?” Clearly producing enough food to feed the world is critical, however, sustainable solutions must also consider the distribution of this food in conjunction with individual/household access to education, health services, clean water, and sanitation. Most importantly, as more people choose to live in cities, unable to produce food, they become even more dependent upon the local food distribution system.

Like the US Congress at this moment, the role of large-scale industrialized versus smallholder farms is being debated in a very polarizing manner. In December 2012, Oxfam hosted an online discussion focused on the fundamental issue of securing steady supplies of nutritious materials for food and beverage companies, regardless of how or where the raw materials were produced. For a summary of the discussion, click here.

Sustainability is also about innovation and recycling. Instead of diverting corn starch away from food and feed streams, sustainable agriculture includes the application of enzymes to cellulosic waste streams, e.g. corncobs, husks and leaves, to produce ethanol. Ethanol-gasoline mixtures can reduce carbon emissions from vehicles. Utilizing corn stover rather than corn starch to make ethanol will help reduce food costs and increase food availability.

The food we eat  affects our lives. There is a personal impact of malnutrition. Vitamin D for example. Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. As people spend less time outdoors in the sun, the incidence of vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world. Lourenco and colleagues report that childhood obesity was more pronounced in Brazilian children with inadequate vitamin D status (defined as <75 nmol/L) and a specific obesity-related gene genotype (rs9939609).

Our bodies don’t operate solely on calories. Our cells also need essential micronutrients: vitamins, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, etc. to function. On World Food Day, let’s try to build bridges to bring sustainable food solutions to people in every part of the world. For more ideas, read “The Road to Good Nutrition”.

Main Citations

Lourenco BH, Qi L, Willett WC, Cardosa MA for the ACTION Study Team. FTO genotype, vitamin D status and weight gain during childhood. 2013 Diabetes doi:10.2337/db13-1290

The Road to Good Nutrition. Editors: Eggersdorfer M, Kraemer K, Ruel M, Van Amerigen M, Bloem M, Chen J. Lateef A, Mannar V. Karger AG, Basel Switzerland. 2013.