Agriculture and Public Health

Agriculture and health are intimately connected according to ‘Agriculture and public health: impacts and pathways for better coherence‘ by the European Public Health Alliance.

However, health is usually a ‘missing link’ in the agricultural debate, partly because the multifaceted interactions between health and agriculture are rarely fully recognised. This discussion paper summarizes the wide-ranging impacts of agriculture on public health and proposes steps towards a constructive agriculture and health agenda.

To download the paper on Agriculture and public health from the epha.org website

Less meat = better health and better planet

Unhealthy levels of meat consumption and production are simultaneously driving climate change, diet-related chronic diseases and resistance to antibiotics, according to the European Public Health Alliance.

They argue that a transition towards sustainable diets is necessary for a realistic climate strategy and represents the agricultural sector’s main climate mitigation opportunity.

Studies suggest that realistic changes in eating patterns in high income countries could reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 25-50%.

To read the full article on meat consumption and climate change on the epha.org website

Guidelines on vitamin B6

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been reviewing scientific advice on nutrient intakes and has set the following values for vitamin B6:

  • 0.3 mg for infants aged 7-11 months;
  • 0.6 to 1.4 mg for children aged 1-14;
  • 1.7 mg for men and boys aged 15-17, and 1.6 mg for women and girls aged 15-17;
  • 1.8 mg for pregnant women and 1.7 mg for lactating women.

New data was used to establish the average requirement for women and then this figure was used to extrapolate average requirements for men, children, infants, pregnant and lactating women.

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that contributes to the body’s energy metabolism, the normal functioning of the nervous system, red blood cell formation and the regulation of hormonal activity. Foods that contain vitamin B6 include fish, poultry, liver, potatoes and non-citrus fruit.

For more information about vitamin B6 on the efsa.europa.eu website

Endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals which impact on the hormone system of animals and humans. They have three cumulative characteristics: a hormonal function, an adverse effect, and a causality between the two.

There has been increasing interest in endocrine disruptors and the European Commission has produced a factsheet that answers some of the most common questions about these chemicals and their possible impact on human health and wellbeing.

For more information about endocrine disruptors on the europa.eu website

The Global Nutrition Report

The latest edition of the Global Nutrition Report has been released.

This Report acts as a report card on the world’s nutrition—globally, regionally, and country by country—and on efforts to improve it. It assesses progress in meeting Global Nutrition Targets established by the World Health Assembly.

For more information about the Global Nutrition Report on the globalnutritionreport.org website

Decade of Action on Nutrition

Nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished and 159 million children under 5 years of age are stunted. Approximately 50 million children under 5 years are wasted and over two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile 1.9 billion people are overweight – of whom over 600 million are obese – and the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing in nearly all countries.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed a UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025.

The resolution aims to trigger intensified action to end hunger and eradicate malnutrition worldwide, and ensure universal access to healthier and more sustainable diets – for all people, whoever they are and wherever they live. It calls on governments to set national nutrition targets for 2025 and milestones based on internationally agreed indicators.

For more information about the Decade of Action on Nutrition on the who.int website

Diet, physical activity and health

In Europe today, 6 of the 7 biggest risk factors for premature death – blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse – relate to how we eat, drink and move.

In April 2016 a conference was held on ‘Diet, Physical Activity and Health: a European Platform for Action‘.

Presentations included:

  • teaching children to be media-literate
  • responsible advertising
  • helping consumers make more informed food choices

To see all the presentations on the ec.europa.eu website

Obesity in the EU

In Europe today, 6 of the 7 biggest risk factors for premature death – blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse – relate to how we eat, drink and move.

Rising overweight and obesity across Europe is particularly worrying. The European Commission advocates an integrated approach, involving stakeholders at local, regional, national and European levels.

In 2014, an Action Plan on Childhood Obesity was adopted that aims to halt the rise of childhood obesity by 2020.  A Joint Action on Nutrition and Physical Activity, involving 25 Member States, was started in September 2015.

To read more about EU policies on Nutrition and Physical Activity on the ec.europa.eu website.

Healthy and sustainable food production

There are considerable obstacles to integrating public health concerns into European agricultural policy. Advocates for healthy food and drink environments are routinely confronted with an oversimplified narrative about growth and jobs. But times are changing; in the recent debates around developing a more sustainable and broader food policy, the discussion is moving beyond the agriculture sector and public health is taking centre stage.

The food policy approach recognises that the food system, with processing, distribution and retail at its core, shapes people’s eating patterns as well as farmers’ incomes and is responsible for vast ecological and social impacts that affect our health both directly (nutrition, air pollution) and indirectly (climate change).

In March 2016, the European Public Health Alliance coorganised an event with the European Environmental Bureau bringing together leading food policy experts in Europe and afterwards over 100 organisations throughout Europe, including 10 public health groups,  demanded a fundamental assessment (“Refit”) of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The open letter noted that the agricultural sector faces multiple crises, in terms of farmers’ livelihoods, depletion of natural resources and not least negative impacts on public health, which merit an urgent review of the policy.

For more information about a sustainable food policy on the epha.eu website

Obese outnumber the underweight globally

There are now more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight, according to a major study led by scientists from Imperial College London.

They compared body mass index (BMI) among almost 20 million adult men and women from 1975 to 2014 and found that obesity in men has tripled and more than doubled in women.

The study, which pooled data from adults in 186 countries, found that the number of obese people worldwide had risen from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Meanwhile the number of underweight people had risen from 330 million to 462 million over the same period.

To read the full article on global obesity on press.thelancet.com