We face a major shift in the global conversation on health. Chronic or noncommunicable diseases are leading causes of death worldwide and they play a major role in the viability of national economies. The United Nations will discuss these issues this week in New York. At the root of many of these diseases lie unhealthy diets, whether caused by under- or over-nutrition.
Many approaches have been put on the table to tackle the issue of poor nutrition and make healthy food and drink options available, accessible and affordable for consumers. Those with the greatest potential for success address the heart of the problem: an outdated policy approach to agriculture and food production. Several reports discuss these issues, including a report out of the UK called "The Future of Food and Farming," and Jason Clay's article in Nature titled, Freeze the Footprint of Food.
The first step toward modernizing the approach is to change the way we define malnutrition. Today's system reflects the old mindset that to be under-nourished is to lack enough calories. While this remains true for almost a billion people, we now know that people whose caloric intake is adequate -- or even excessive -- can still be under-nourished due to a deficiency of nutrients in the food they eat. They are also at a higher risk for developing often disabling chronic diseases that are expensive for society to treat. Across the globe, a change in government incentives and policies to address the sharp rise in chronic diseases and the crucial role of nutrition in their prevention is imperative. This must be done in ways that not only meet the needs of all people for a diversified diet, but also do not damage the environment.