22 July 2019, Valencia (Spain) – FAO Director General, José Graziano da Silva, today urged cities around the world to redouble their efforts to promote healthier and more sustainable urban diets and food systems to tackle the increasing levels of overweight and obesity.
“There are already more obese people than hungry people in the world. People are increasingly eating badly, and the main reason is that current food systems encourage the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are high in salt, sugar, saturated fats and artificial ingredients,” he said, warning of the rising “pandemic” of obesity in the five continents.
This type of food, he said, is cheaper, more accessible and easier to prepare than fresh food, particularly for the population of the suburbs and rural areas.
In general, he said, when resources are scarce, people choose less expensive foods, which are usually “very caloric but not very nutritious”.
FAO Director-General stressed that processed foods also fare better in international markets: “This particularly affects the population of countries that must import most of the food, as in the case of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and some countries in Africa,” he said. “That is the reason behind the high obesity rates in the Caribbean and Pacific islands, where the average is 60 and 70 percent, respectively.”
Graziano da Silva made these remarks at the launch of the World Center for Sustainable Urban Food (CEMAS), chaired by Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain, FAO’s Special Ambassador for Nutrition. The President of the Generalitat Valenciana, Ximo Puig, and the Mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó, also participated in the event.
CEMAS is a joint initiative of FAO and the city of Valencia to strengthen, advise and coordinate cities around the world in management and exchange of knowledge on sustainable local food systems.
The new center will also carry out dissemination and public awareness activities on issues related to food, nutrition, the fight against hunger, climate change and food systems.
“There is broad medical consensus,” FAO Director-General warned: obesity is a risk factor for the development of many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes and even some types of cancer.
Promoting local circuits of food production and consumption
Graziano da Silva called for an “urgent transformation” of food systems to ensure that they offer healthy and nutritious food for all, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity.
“We need to integrate actions and create local circuits of production and consumption. There are many issues that condition local production, such as laws, research and academic centers, and we have to approach everything. The transformation must be integral,” he added.
Cities, said Graziano da Silva, have a fundamental role: “To combat obesity there are many effective measures, but the most fundamental is that fresh and healthy foods are available for the consumption of their citizens.”
FAO Director General stressed that local administrations “can and should promote proximity markets” so that the healthiest option – fresh food – is also the “most accessible to consumers.”
At a time of rapid urbanization, he said, cities are becoming increasingly important agents of change, also in terms of policies and measures aimed at providing access to healthy food.
Linkages between local production and good nutrition
“We know that there is a close relationship between local production of family farmers and good nutrition,” said FAO’s chief. “It is no coincidence that the UN Decade of Family Farming and the Decade of Action on Nutrition are being implemented at the same time.”
That is why, he said, it is important to offer family farmers better access to services, infrastructure and markets.
“We must also create the conditions for city dwellers to consume more fresh and nutritious food, based on short food chains as well as urban and peri-urban agriculture.”
Hunger keeps going up
The Director General referred to the data released in the latest report of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019, which warns that more than 820 million people continue to suffer from hunger in the world.
“I hope that in the next few years we can make more progress, because the goal of Zero Hunger is still possible. We can do it,” he said.