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Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has issued a report that addresses the links between health, malnutrition and our food system. In the introduction to the report, he notes, “Existing food systems have failed to address hunger, and at the same time encourage diets that are a source of overweight and obesity that cause even more deaths worldwide than does underweight.”

So, he has issued five recommendations for fixing diets and food systems:

  • Tax unhealthy products
  • Regulate foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar
  • Crack down on junk food advertising
  • Overhaul misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others
  • Support local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods
Schutter’s main focus in the report is to encourage governments to stop looking for answers from doctors and pills, and to start looking to our food system as a whole—for both the problems and the solutions.  He says in the report, 

One in seven people globally are undernourished, and many more suffer from the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiency, while 1.3 billion are overweight or obese.

Faced with this public health crisis, we continue to prescribe medical remedies: nutrition pills and early-life nutrition strategies for those lacking in calories; slimming pills, lifestyle advice and calorie counting for the overweight.

But we must tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms.

Yet here in the United States, the kinds of regulations he is proposing, including taxes on products deemed unhealthy and stronger regulation of the junk food industry, have been met with resistence. Many Americans believe that it is not the government’s role to tell citizens what they can and cannot eat. Yet the numbers of obese and overweight people in our country clearly show that citizens are not making the healthiest choices, even when given the freedom and means to do so. Is that our right?

What do you think of the report’s recommendations? Should governments tax and regulate unhealthy foods? Should they support the production of healthy foods? Is the government responsible for its citizens’ health and wellbeing, or are the citizens themselves responsible for making healthy choices, no matter what sort of food system they live in?

 image: Marshall Astor – Food Fetishist