Global Food Supply Focus of This Year's World Health Day

The World Health Day is on April 7, and this year the World Health Organization is focusing its attention on food safety. According to the group, more than 200 diseases are caused by unsafe food and 2 million people per year die worldwide from contaminated food or water.


It’s a jungle out there

Back in 1906, Upton Sinclair wrote the ground-breaking book “The Jungle,” which ultimately led to the founding of the United States Food and Drug Administration. The book raised awareness not only of the exploitation of immigrants laboring in the meat packing industry of Chicago, but also the unsafe food handling practices that were common during the early 20th century, including the use of diseased, contaminated meat – processed after hours when inspectors were not on site. (Ref. 2)

While food safety laws have vastly improved the quality of the items that line our grocery store shelves, things are far from perfect.

In the United States alone last month there were more than 20 recalls of food items due to problems ranging from contaminated spinach to potential metal pieces packed with food. (Ref. 3)

Worldwide, problems range from counterfeit food and drugs – experts say consumers spend $30 billion a year on fake drugs, with much of that money being spent in Africa (Ref. 4) – and adulterated food, which includes contaminated or unsafe foods.

Because imports/exports are increasing as the world’s food supply becomes more globalized, WHO chose to use this World Health Day to raise awareness of efforts to improve food safety from farm to table around the globe.

(Source: WHO. Image by Unknown)

The global burden of foodborne illnesses

One of the main reasons why the WHO is focusing on food safety this World Health Day is a shocking one. Worldwide authorities have yet to determine the full extent of the global burden of foodborne illnesses.

We do know that worldwide about 1.8 million children die of diarrhea-related illnesses each year, and although not all of them are food-related, contaminated food contributes significantly to the problem.

Food safety is a responsibility that begins with farmers and manufacturers, but includes those all along the chain of distribution and processing, who should follow the five following practices in order to reduce the rate of food-related illnesses and deaths, making the world a safer place to live – and eat  According to the WHO, these are critical steps:

  • Keep clean.
  • Separate raw and cooked food.
  • Cook food thoroughly.
  • Keep food at safe temperatures.
  • Use safe water and raw materials.

Water woes

Along with food concerns, clean water is also at the core of global health.

According to The World Wildlife Fund, more than one billion people worldwide lack access to clean water, while 2.4 billion don’t have adequate sanitation, putting them at an increased risk of contracting deadly diseases. (Ref. 5)

The National Geographic estimated that 70 percent of industrial waste is untreated when it spills into waterways, leaving any usable water supply polluted. The rest is often decimated by agriculture waste including fertilizers and chemicals that flow into waterways as runoff. (Ref. 6)

So what’s the good news?

Still, even as developing nations are struggling with health issues relating to clean water, the world’s developed countries are beginning to take health more seriously.

  • Even as obesity rates rise, type 2 diabetes rates are stabilizing. After decades of steadily increasing, the rate of type 2 diabetes is finally slowing, even though obesity rates in developed nations continue to climb.

The nations with the highest obesity rates, according to statistics, include the United States followed by Mexico, Great Britain, Slovakia, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic. (Ref. 7)

The good news, however, is a steady rate of new cases of type 2 diabetes, a disease that often is diagnosed in tandem with obesity. Type 2 diabetes is associated with a wide range of health risks including heart attack and stroke, nerve damage that can lead to amputations, blindness and diminished brain function and a host of other issues.

The numbers seem to suggest that initiatives to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes have been to some degree effective. (Ref. 8)

  • The Netherlands has taken a new look at caring for dementia patients. Based on the idea that nursing homes lead to a lower quality of life for residents, one woman secured government funding to establish a wholly unique alternative.

The village of Hogewey in the Netherlands has been created as a gated community exclusively for dementia patients and their caregivers, and is designed to take the place of a nursing home. The village outside the outskirts of Amsterdam features 23 homes, each decorated with pieces from the time period when the six or seven residents of the house began losing their short-term memory, as well as shops, a theatre, a post office and a garden.

Designed so residents can live a relatively normal life, even in the midst of devastating dementia, Hogewey is also helping patients live longer by erasing the isolation that often comes with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. (Ref. 9)

  • Where’s the healthiest country in the world to grab a bite? Not only is the Netherlands home to innovative Alzheimer’s care, but also the world’s healthiest people, according to the New York Daily News. The Netherlands landed at the top of the list of 125 countries – Chad was at the bottom – thanks to a diet focused on vegetables, low incidents of diabetes and low-cost, diverse food options. Other countries near the top of the list included France and Switzerland tied for second place and Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden next. (Ref. 10)



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