After my fascinating meeting last week on a West African food security reserve, my second meeting in Ghana was also about cereals.
In my more desperate hours, I sometimes wonder whether raising my physician voice is enough to foster change, to make the food system healthier and more sustainable.
While the world's governments gathered in Cancún, ultimately failing to reach a meaningful multilateral commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help save the planet, I was across the Atlantic in a different tropical country: Ghana.
Last month, the journal San Francisco Medicine published what we hope will become an annual nutrition issue, titled Food for Thought: Practical Nutrition for Physicians. Some of the gems include a piece from our own David Wallinga, MD on "An Unhealthy Food System: Suggestions for Physician Advocacy" and another from Brian Raymond, MPH of Kaiser Permanente called "Taking Action: A Health Sector Guide to Food System and Agricultural Policy."
Read the entire issue (.pdf).
There is growing scientific evidence that environmental exposures affect both individuals' health and the health of the population as a whole. Our health professionals are on the front lines treating diseases associated with a variety of environmental contaminants.
In a new article for Medscape titled "Greening Your Practice," IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., outlines how clinicians can address two critical environmental issues with important health consequences: the daily exposure of people to combinations of toxic chemicals, and an unhealthy "obesogenic" food environment. Dr. Wallinga writes, "Because chemical and food environments are inherently community issues, clinicians may find advocacy for healthier chemical and food policies to be an essential component for reducing the unhealthy food and chemical exposures already affecting their patients."
You can read the full article here.
Many things “cause” the obesity epidemic, acting together. But the general consensus around how to respond to this fact has changed significantly.
For years the focus within academic medicine was on changing lifestyle or behavior—in short, approaches that focus on the individual. The approach didn't work very well.
The new approach is to change the default environment that appears to constrain individuals to make bad choices and become obese in the first place by eating more calories than they can burn. A permissive culture that allows even the youngest, most vulnerable children to be bombarded with soda and other junk food ads is one example. Local zoning that leaves many neighborhoods lacking in sidewalks or bike lanes—or virtually any way of getting from point A to B except by car—is another.
But might there be some other mysterious factors like environmental chemicals or contaminated food? Science pointing in that direction is mounting.
This week, Nature reports on a study that looks at the obesity epidemic of the four-legged kind. (Though it’s hard to see how pets and laboratory animals would be as impacted by marketing or zoning as are kids.)
The study, called "Canaries in the Coal Mine," and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looks at statistics on more than 20,000 animals and finds an epidemic of obesity in family pets, among laboratory animals and even among wild animals living near people.
The study raises as many questions as it answers. The authors acknowledge that there are many conceivable explanations for what they observed. Perhaps rats are fatter because our garbage has become richer as we have. However, an NIH-funded workshop on the “Role of Environmental Chemicals in the Development of Diabetes and Obesity,” is being held January 11–13, 2011in Raleigh, North Carolina.
This promises to be a story we’ll be hearing more about.
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced "FoodWorks New York," a new effort by the city council to produce a comprehensive plan to use the city’s food system to create jobs, improve public health and protect the environment. Over the next six months, the city council will work with experts from government, industry, labor and academia, as well as hunger and environmental advocates and community leaders to examine every step in the city’s food cycle. In a speech, Speaker Quinn outlined five outcomes for the plan:
As part of developing the plan, the council will require city agencies to report back on food-related measures. The data will be used to set goals and better coordinate efforts across city government.
China faces the challenge of feeding 22 percent of the world's population on 9 percent of its arable land. What does this really mean for China's farmers, the environment and the world? And what can we learn from China's experience as we grapple with challenges of development, environment and hunger?
IATP President Jim Harkness, who lived and worked in China for 16 years, will examine the challenge of feeding China and explain why, despite two decades of dire warnings, China’s growing appetite has not brought famine to the rest of the world...yet.
Yesterday at The American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual meeting in Denver, researchers from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released Fast Food FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score). They found that children as young as two are seeing more fast food advertising than ever before and that children are targeted through various media and in the restaurants themselves.
Read this summary of their findings and a rundown of the best and worst kids meals available at popular fast food restaurants. If you're going to visit one, be sure to ask for the healthy sides (milk, fruit, yogurt). The study found that if you leave the choice to the restaurants, most will serve your kids french fries and soda.
This week, the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and a number of governments are meeting in the Hague at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. The original goal was to develop a Roadmap for Agriculture that would feed into the global climate change negotiations at the United Nations.
One of the key obstacles to developing a joint approach on agriculture and climate change is financing: finding money to help farmers and communities adapt to the effects of climate change while reducing agriculture's contribution to climate change. Carbon markets have been one of dominant proposals for financing agriculture-related projects on climate change.
IATP's Shefali Sharma is in the Hague and delivered the below statement to conference participants on the risks carbon markets pose to food security and greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Between 2007 and the spring of 2008, the food price index shot up by 85 percent, then in a few months, agriculture commodity prices fell by 60 percent. The massive price spike and drop was devastating for developing countries, particularly net-food importers. The food price crisis drove another 150 million people into hunger. According to UNCTAD, the extent of price volatility during the food crisis cannot be attributed to supply and demand alone. There is now a wide consensus that speculation on commodity markets by financial traders had a significant role to play in creating the crisis.
In our discussions in the Hague on food security, climate change and “innovative finance," the discussion on speculation in carbon markets and their impact on agriculture commodities is glaringly missing.
Carbon and commodity markets are tied together through futures markets. And carbon trading is essentially derivatives trading. Unregulated derivatives trading, starting with mortgage-backed securities, was a major source of the current global financial crisis. This crisis is the reason most developed countries claim they have inadequate public funds for climate finance. Yet, carbon trading, to the scale at which it is being proposed, would create a large secondary market of carbon derivatives that has thus far been poorly regulated. When bundled with other commodities, such as maize, wheat or oil, carbon derivatives have a large potential to destabilize agriculture prices. A second way that carbon derivatives can destabilize markets is through over-the-counter trading: a preferred mechanism of financial speculators who can make unlimited bets in commodity markets through this window. In 2008, 44 percent of carbon traded on the European Emissions Trading Scheme was through over-the-counter trades. As a result the carbon price in the ETS has been highly volatile and low.
Land-based offsets included in carbon markets therefore have significant implications on land tenure, food sovereignty, biodiversity and the right to food. These linkages need to be carefully examined and have thus far been neglected as a topic of discussion in this conference.
Industrialized countries and their industries have a legal and historical responsibility under the UNFCCC to mitigate climate change. They should not pass this responsibility to countries who have had little to do with creating the problem, but who nonetheless will bear the largest impacts.
Reliable, predictable and public finance needs to fund adaptation needs in developing countries and there are several proposals including carbon, transport and financial transaction taxes that are on the table that should be considered.