Francesco Branca, MD, PhD
Director, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD), World Health Organization
Despite us living in a world where food is in abundance, access to good quality food that meets nutritional and energy needs is not equal. And with the onset of COVID-19, food security is only getting worse.
Food security refers to having access to a healthy diet that provides nutrients required for growth and development, adequate living, and prevents chronic diseases. Francesco Branca, MD, PhD Director, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD), World Health Organization says: “The purchasing power of families has been reduced due to unemployment and loss of income, and many are simply unable to afford adequate diets. In fact, we estimate up to an additional 132 million people have gone into food insecurity as a result of COVID-19”.
690 million people affected by food security
The latest reports from FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, released in May, indicate that nearly 690 million people are affected by falling food security. Although numbers vary in different regions, more than three billion people are unable to afford a healthy diet.
The pandemic demonstrated that our food systems are weak and inefficient.
COVID-19 has disrupted the food system in many ways, hitting producers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers and consumers. For many people fresh products were not available for long periods, as food workers were unable to work in production or distribution, impacting the entire supply chain.
While this has been worse in countries already affected by malnutrition, “what we have seen, is a big impact in western countries as well, including the UK”.
The goal to eliminate global malnutrition by 2030 has been disrupted by COVID-19
One of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to eliminate all forms of malnutrition by 2030. But, due to COVID-19, up to 15% more children under the age of five may be affected by malnutrition, or seven additional million, unless action is taken.
Health services have also been affected by the pandemic, and health workers have had to shift focus, with many basic services disrupted. People are not taking the risk of going to health centres, meaning that, for the first time in 28 years, immunisation levels are down. At the same time as losing access to healthy and fresh food, and eating more sweetened or processed food, people are moving less so obesity levels are rising.
“It particularly impacts children. School meals have been interrupted, which often provides the bulk of a healthy diet and physical activity could not take place,” says Branca. “Work is starting now on changing food systems. The pandemic demonstrated that our food systems are weak and inefficient. We need to meet the physical and biological needs of a growing population, whether it is public policy, making a healthy environment or investment from the public and private sector – food production can be more in line with people and the planet”.