CHICAGO COUNCIL RELEASES REPORT ON THE LINKS BETWEEN AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND NONCOMMUNICABLE DISEASE

Report launched in advance of United Nations High Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Disease

New York, September 19, 2011 – A new report released by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs calls on the agriculture and food sectors to play a role in mitigating the global rise in noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Bringing Agriculture to the Table: How Agriculture and Food Policy can Play a Role in Preventing Chronic Disease (PDF), which was presented before this morning’s opening of the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs, identifies new opportunities for those in heath and agriculture to work together to promote better health. The report was prepared by Dr. Rachel Nugent, University of Washington and project chair for the Chicago Council. The project was guided by an advisory panel of noted agriculture and health experts from academia, private sector and international organizations.

Health solutions to prevent noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, lung disease, cancer and diabetes, have traditionally left out the agriculture and food sector. The report finds, however, that if the agriculture and food sector works more closely with the health sector, the rising prevalence of diet-related NCDs and early deaths can be reduced through better nutrition and healthier lifestyles. The report points out that the global food system has evolved over the past century to deliver a number of benefits—greater choice for consumers, greater nutritional diversity and lower cost. But, it asserts that agriculture must offer consumers a better mix of locally available, less-processed, and culturally appropriate items that constitute a healthy diet. 

The Chicago Council report outlines how change in diets and agriculture can improve health. According to the World Health Organization, the specific dietary contributors to NCDs are insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts and whole grains, and excess intake of salt, saturated fat and trans-fatty acids. These factors lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight and obesity, which in turn are related to instances of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. The economic costs of diagnosing, treating and providing long-term management for NCDs could potentially overwhelm low-resource health systems in these countries. It is estimated that treatment of NCDs will cost $30 trillion globally between now and 2030. The rise in NCDs has paralleled changes in the agriculture and food system. Food production, processing, trade, marketing and retailing contribute to the increases in prevalence of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and diet-related cancers.  

The report identifies opportunities for international organizations, national governments, agrifood businesses, donors and consumers to leverage agriculture and food to mitigate NCDs. Agrifood businesses can maximize nutritional benefit by identifying how health goals can be achieved at each stage of production, through a “value chain” for food production. International institutions, national governments, and donors can adopt mutual goals and metrics for their agriculture and health sectors to pursue. Both new approaches will change the food environment and reduce NCD risks.  

“The costs of dealing with NCDs are soaring in both rich and poor countries," said Nugent, “It is obvious that the health sector alone cannot prevent all these premature deaths and chronic illnesses, and the poor of the world are the most vulnerable. The agriculture and food sector can be a great partner to the health sector in finding ways to control and prevent the global effects of NCDs.”

Noncommunicable diseases cause over 63 percent of all global deaths annually, and the proportion is rising. NCDs affect younger people in developing countries than in wealthy countries. Each year, 9 million people under the age 60 die of an NCD. These illnesses are also becoming more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries: chronic diseases are the leading cause of death in all regions except Africa. In poorer parts of the world, many countries must deal with both under- and overnutrition in their populations, as well high rates of both infectious diseases and diet-related chronic diseases, resulting in “double-burdens” of malnutrition and disease.

The report is the culmination of the Healthy Agriculture, Food, and Noncommunicable Diseases project, which draws upon The Chicago Council on Global Affair’s previous work on agriculture, development, and food policy, including the 2006 report, Modernizing America’s Food and Farm Policy: Vision for a New Direction; the 2009 report, Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty; and the recently released Progress Report on U.S. Leadership in Global Agricultural Development. Said Council President, Marshall Bouton, “The High Level Meeting is a good opportunity to highlight the positive contributions that agriculture and food can make to human health. But this is only the beginning—there is a place for both health and agriculture at the table in advancing overall global development in the long term. The food system can be credited with making food more available and affordable to a large portion of the world. It now has the opportunity to provide healthy diets for increased longevity and well-being.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Please contact Betsy Hushek at bhushek@thechicagocouncil.org or (312) 821-7525.  

 

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