Taking actions to implement sustainable healthy diets
A diversified, balanced and healthy diet, that provides energy and essential nutrients for growth and for living a healthy and active life, makes for a favorable ‘diet quality’. A healthy diet provides adequacy, without excess of essential nutrients and avoids health-harming substances.
The most recent evidence suggests that the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet, rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion, reflecting the impacts of rising consumer food prices during the pandemic .
Poor diet quality is related to malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition and nutrient deficiencies, as well as diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. Poor diets are among the top risk factors driving the global burden of disease. Therefore understanding diverse diets of people globally, and interpreting dietary patterns and trends in populations is the first step to inform actions to support and improve diet quality and track progress over time.
Micronutrient deficiencies are in fact an important contributor to the global burden of disease through increasing rates of illness and mortality from infectious diseases, and of disability. But the burden of micronutrient deficiencies varies across regions and countries, with higher prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia . Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect more than one-third of SSA’s population, overwhelming both national healthcare and economic systems, This could be due to the interaction of inadequate dietary diversity, poor sanitation and infectious diseases.
Healthy diets are therefore essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal #2, which aims to end all forms of malnutrition. Yet, there are few harmonized metrics to track how diets, globally, are evolving and what is the impact these changes are having on human health and the environment.
Public-private engagements by dialogue and concerted action can make micronutrient-rich foods more available and affordable in lower-income and other challenging settings. Urgent action at the interface of engagement between public and private stakeholders across the food system can help avert the impending crisis of diet-related diseases so global nutrition goals can be met in the coming decade.
Top resources we think matter
The Global Diet Quality Project is a collaboration between Gallup, Harvard Department of Global Health and Population, and GAIN. It aims to collect dietary quality data in the general adult population across countries worldwide, and to provide the tools for valid and feasible diet quality monitoring within countries. The project enables the collection of consistent, comparable dietary data across countries for the first time through two main global public goods: The Diet Quality Questionnaire (DQQ) and the Data on diet quality across countries.
The Food Systems Dashboard is the first open-access platform that brings together global data across all components of the food system. Developed by JHU and GAIN with collaborators (FAO, The Alliance of Bioversity International, CIAT, Harvard University, City University London, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and The Agriculture-Nutrition Community of Practice), the dashboard is a global repository of easily accessible and visualizable cross-disciplinary and multisectoral data. It contains over 200 indicators that measure components, drivers, and outcomes of food systems at the country level to allow decision makers and users to gain in-depth insights into the challenges and opportunities facing countries and their food systems and prioritize actions and policies to transform their food systems.
Food system actors and stakeholders need actionable evidence to make decisions that can bring about food system transformation, yet no such mechanism currently exists. The Food Systems Countdown Initiative (FSCI) has been developed using a food systems framework, to provide a scientific measurement and assessment of all aspects of food systems and their interactions and track their progress to 2030. The aim is to guide decision-makers and hold those in power to account for transformation.