Food Systems And Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st century

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, commissioned this Foresight report in 2015 to take a close look at the extent to which food systems are delivering healthy diets today and to assess whether they are fit for the future. This report highlights the very serious challenges facing policy makers today and in the future. Already, approximately three billion people on the planet – from every country – have low-quality diets. 

It shows that current trends do not have to persist if the right actions are taken now and in the coming decades. Better diets are possible. Ensuring that all people eat healthily is a moral and economic imperative. This will require focused, determined and sustained action from policy makers working in partnership with the private sector in complex and rapidly changing environments. 

With so much at stake, we all share a responsibility to find solutions that work for everyone. There are many public policy opportunities to act on in the food system beyond agriculture to improve the consumer’s ability to access food that is safe, nutritious and affordable. 

Specific priorities for action detailed in the report are : 

  • To focus food and agriculture policies on securing diet quality for infants and young children.
  • Improve adolescent girl and adult women’s diet quality as a priority in all policy making that shapes food systems
  • Ensure that food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) guide policy decisions to reshape food systems
  • Animal source foods (e.g., dairy, eggs, fish and meat) provide important nutrients. Policy support for these foods should be pragmatically evidence-based rather than driven by ideology
  • Make fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds much more available, more affordable and safer for all consumers.
  • Make policies which regulate product formulation, labelling, advertising, promotion, and taxes a high priority.
  • Improve accountability at all levels, of the government, private sector and the civil society organizations.
  • Break down barriers associated with the longstanding division of jurisdictional responsibilities within many governments – between agriculture, health, social protection and commerce.
  • Institutionalize high-quality diets through public sector purchasing power.
  • Refocus agriculture research investments globally to support healthy diets and good nutrition
Key messages
  • Economic and social returns from investing in nutrition are high – GBP 16 generated for every pound invested. Boosting nutrition can boost growth.
  • Many low and middle income economies are underperforming, and diet-related chronic diseases are placing ever-greater demands on health care systems. The situation is set to worsen over the next 20 years as powerful drivers of change such as population growth, climate change and urbanization converge on food systems
  • The food system presents a huge opportunity to act to improve diets. There are many possible actions that can be taken to improve diet quality with entry points in different parts of the food system. Most of these are vastly underutilized.
  • Some solutions have already been tried to improve diet quality in food supply systems, but typically not widely enough. There is significant scope to improve design so they are more effective in specific contexts
  • Research on food, agriculture and nutrition must be refocused on achievement of healthy diets
  • Policies need to align the whole food system towards diet quality goals. A policy to produce more vegetables, for example, will be rendered ineffective if they are all lost or wasted before they reach consumers. Food can also be rendered unsafe through entry points in the food system.
  • Concerted effort is needed particularly in low- and middle-income countries. It is also essential that the public and private sectors work together to achieve this.
  • Food systems need to be harnessed so that they nourish rather than merely feed people.
  • Clear priorities have been proposed for action at national and international levels, as well as detailed advice and guidance, which will be of practical and immediate use to decision maker.