Connecting the dots: a new IPES-Food report on the food-health nexus

Today, IPES-Food[1] has launched a new report, Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems, within the framework of the UN Committee on World Food Security meeting in Rome.

Commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food[2], the report provides an in-depth analysis of the connection between the predominant agro-food system, namely industrialized food production and farming, and the spectre of an increasingly unhealthy population.

“Food systems are making us sick,” stated Cecilia Rocha, the lead author of the report. “Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but they’re only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

Severe health conditions affect a large and growing number of people around the world. Respiratory diseases, different carcinogenic pathologies and diabetes are just few of the health risks that can be linked to industrial food and farming practices, such as chemical-intensive agriculture, concentrated livestock rearing and ultra-processed foods.

The cost is economic, too: each year, malnutrition costs the world around $3.5 trillion dollars, an amount which is difficult to even imagine. Obesity alone will cost the world around $760 billion by 2025. The urgency of the matter is beyond question.

Moreover, as they disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged part of the population, these hazardous risks are often undocumented and unaddressed, as underlined by Olivier De Schutter, IPES-Food fellow co-chair: “Here as elsewhere, political disempowerment and marginalization goes hand in hand with risks to lives and livelihoods”, creating a vicious circle which is difficult to break.

The complexity of the issue cannot, though, be an excuse for not taking productive measures. Indeed, the report identifies five actions for building healthier food systems: i) promoting food systems thinking at all levels; ii) reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good; iii) bringing the positive impacts of alternative food systems to light; iv) adopting the precautionary principle; v) building integrated food policies under participatory governance. The full report is available here.

“We must urgently address these impacts wherever they occur”, said Cecilia Rocha, so that “the root causes of inequitable, unsustainable and unhealthy practices in food system” are at the same time addressed and potentially defeated.



[1]  Since 2015, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has brought together expert voices from different disciplines to inform the policy debate on reforming food systems across the world.

[2]  The Global Alliance for the Future of Food is a unique collaboration of philanthropic foundations that have come together to strategically leverage resources and knowledge, develop frameworks and pathways for change, and push the agenda for more sustainable food and agriculture systems globally.


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