Rising Food Prices: An Imminent Concern for NCDs and Overall Health

by Alexandra Reese on March 27, 2014

Fruits

A few days ago I went to my local grocery store and as I was walking through the produce area some plump, red seedless grapes caught my eye. $3.99 per lb., no big deal, I’ll get them. But little did I know that the bag weighed more than 3 lbs. so I would have spent over $12 for a bag of grapes. I quickly asked the cashier to remove the grapes from my bill. That’s ridiculous if you ask me!

Food prices are on the rise once again, surpassing the levels that were reached during the food crisis of 2007-2008, which caused the number of hungry people in the world to exceed 1 billion. Although experts aren’t expecting to experience a food crisis as severe as the one in 2007-2008, it still poses a threat to many people around the world, especially the most vulnerable. The prices of rice, wheat, and corn have all exceed record highs in the past few months, leading to food shortages in some developing countries. Many of the world’s poorest people are now spending 50-80% of their income on food because of this global food shortage. Higher, unpredictable food prices is a threat to people’s overall health because it reduces their ability to pay for their food in addition to basic needs like medical care and education.

These increased prices are in large part a result of lesser quantities of food being produced because of the climate change. For this reason, many individuals have become supporters of genetic modified foods, or GMOs, to ensure crops can withstand droughts, pests, and harmful plant diseases. But GMOs have also been at the center of much criticism because there is some concern that they can be harmful to people’s health. With increased prices and threats to agriculture because of climate change, research and investment is needed to create more sustainable farming practices that are not harmful to consumers and also decrease greenhouse gases. Agriculture is an important foundation to a country’s infrastructure and can foster growth and development. It can also promote healthy lifestyles by ensuring food safety and reducing the cost people spend on food. Many people discuss the impact the increased food prices have on the most vulnerable population of the world because this crisis has caused many people to go hungry. But these increased food prices also have a detrimental effect on middle-income populations as well.

When the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables rise, families with less money allotted for food expenditures may be forced to purchase cheaper foods that are less healthy and often higher in calories. Because of these high costs, the diets of a low- and middle-income household provide cheap, concentrated forms of energy from fats, sugars, cereals, potatoes, and meat products but offer little whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Similarly, low-income families are more likely to visit fast food restaurants as opposed to full-service restaurants or making dinner at home because they are less expensive. When you can get a cheeseburger for $0.99 or a salad for $7.99, individuals who have to watch what they spend on food will most likely pick the unhealthy yet cheaper cheeseburger. There is convincing evidence that fruit and vegetable prices, particularly non-starch variety, are associated with lower weight outcomes while fast-food prices are associated with higher weight outcomes.

Governments both at the national and international level must act to prevent these rising food prices from going out of control like they did during the 2007-2008 food crisis. Increasing investments and support in agriculture will help stop the rising unpredictable food prices. Regulating the prices of healthy and unhealthy foods, like putting a higher tax on foods purchased at a fast food restaurant and a subsidy for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, is a promising option in the attempts to combat obesity and poor nutrition. Additionally, governments and humanitarian organizations should help those in extreme poverty cope with the immediate effects of high prices through financial support programs to ensure people don’t go hungry.

The growing prevalence of childhood obesity is a major concern to public health officials because children that are overweight or obese are more likely to develop health problems, such as high blood pressure, hypertension, gallbladder disease, and Type 2 diabetes as early as adolescence. The rates of obesity and the related NCDs in all countries around the world follow a socioeconomic gradient, with the highest rates seen among the low- and middle-income populations. The number of children who are obese has reached epidemic levels in the last three decades. Although obesity can in part be prevented through physical activity, diet has a large impact on a person’s body weight and overall health. Access to healthy, nutritious foods is an essential aspect to a persons diet and well-being.

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/265S.full

http://www.oxfam.org/en/campaigns/agriculture/food_prices


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donella Rothwell April 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm

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