MONTREAL—With widespread hunger continuing to haunt developing nations, and obesity fast becoming a global epidemic, any number of efforts on the parts of governments, scientists, non-profit organizations and the business world have taken aim at these twin nutrition-related crises. But all of these efforts have failed to make a large dent in the problems, and now an unusual international collaboration of researchers is explaining why.
Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that while hunger and obesity are caused by a perfect storm of multiple factors acting in concert, the efforts to counter them have been narrowly focused and isolated. Overcoming the many barriers to achieving healthy nutrition worldwide, the researchers argue, will instead require an unprecedented level of joint planning and action between academia, government, civil society and industry.
In particular, the authors of the papers in the PNAS special feature propose an ambitious plan to remake the ways food is grown, processed, distributed, sold and consumed. The plan focuses on innovations that simultaneously take into account the needs of farmers, the complexity of nutrition-related human biology and decision-making, and the power of profit incentives in the commercial sector. The result, the researchers say, is “a roadmap for a transdisciplinary science to support change of sufficient scale and scope" to carve out “an alternative path from tradition to industrialization" —one that “promotes healthy lifestyles and environments rather than undermining them."
Global food output has doubled in the past half-century, representing a nearly 20 percent increase in per-capita food supply, note the lead article’s co-authors, Prof. Laurette Dubé of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, Prabhu Pingali of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Prof. Patrick Webb of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Yet the remarkable gains that flowed from the improvements in agriculture—known as the Green Revolution— have led to some new and unexpected health and nutrition problems, while leaving others unsolved.