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Health

Nutritional Crisis: Not Just a Third World Problem

A nutritional crisis can occur not only due to a lack of availability of suitable food but also due to a lack of proper consumption. In developed countries, in Europe and the U.S., there are significant challenges due to dietary habits that lead to health problems. According to recent data from major organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Health Organization (WHO), these challenges are intense and are being addressed through specific policies.

Obesity: A Growing Epidemic

  • S.: Over 40% of adults are classified as obese (USDA, 2023).
  • Europe: There is a wide variation between countries. For example, Germany and the United Kingdom have higher rates (OECD, 2023).
  • Causes: Poor dietary choices such as high consumption of calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods (fast food, soft drinks, processed snacks), along with a sedentary lifestyle.

Cardiovascular Diseases: The ‘Heart’ of the Problem

  • Leading Cause of Death: Cardiovascular diseases are now the leading cause of death in both regions. Continuous poor diet contributes significantly to these diseases. Diets high in saturated and trans fats, processed meats, sugar, and soft drinks significantly contribute to cardiovascular diseases (WHO, 2023).
  • Causes: Dietary choices are primarily due to lifestyle changes that have radically altered over recent decades.

Diabetes: The ‘Bittersweet’ Crisis

  • S.: Approximately 34 million Americans have diabetes, with many cases linked to obesity and poor diet rather than organic predisposition (CDC, 2023).
  • Europe: Diabetes, like obesity, shows a wide variation in rates between European countries. However, overall, there is an increase in both diabetes and obesity in Europe (OECD, 2023).
  • Causes: Sweets, soft drinks, and processed foods that always contain added sugar increase blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, leading to diabetes.

Micronutrient Deficiencies: Hidden ‘Hunger’

  • Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, iron, and calcium are significant in both regions (WHO, 2023). Often in the U.S., necessary quantities of these nutrients are not consumed (USDA, 2023), and these deficiencies are usually more pronounced in young children and the elderly in Europe (OECD, 2023).
  • Causes: Reduced consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, and lean meats.

 

Hunger as a Socioeconomic Phenomenon

U.S.: Many Americans do not have the appropriate income to access nutritious raw food materials. It is common for fast food to be cheaper than healthy food options, leading to obesity and malnutrition (USDA, 2023).

  • Europe: Economic inequalities have intensified in recent years. Additionally, access to healthy foods is much more difficult and is significantly affected by intense urbanization. City dwellers see their purchasing power for healthy foods rapidly decreasing (OECD, 2023).

 The Role of Politicians in the U.S. and Europe

With different socioeconomic, cultural, and geopolitical backgrounds, Europe and the U.S. have different toolkits for addressing the aforementioned health and nutrition problems.

Policy Actions for Unified Health in Europe: The One Health initiative is an approach to designing and implementing programs, policies, legislation, and research in which multiple sectors collaborate for Public Health. Some key axes are:

  • Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture: Producing healthy foods and promoting them to consumers within the framework of environmental protection.
  • Microbial Resistance: Reducing the use of antibiotics in animal production has become imperative. There have been many negative impacts on human health.
  • Biodiversity: Maintaining biodiversity is not just a ‘romantic theory’ of environmental science. It has been proven to enhance food quality as well as environmental health, which together promote human health.

Analogous ‘One Health’ Policies in the U.S.

  • USDA’s ‘MyPlate’ and Dietary Guidelines: These initiatives in the U.S. provide excellent guidance for American citizens to make a turn towards choosing healthy diets. They aim to bring about social change by radically altering the mistaken mindset of ‘what is healthy’, which has been misinterpreted in recent decades.
  • National School Lunch Program: This program ensures healthy meals in schools.
  • Support for Underprivileged Individuals: Various programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) provide low-income families with access to nutritious food.
  • From Farm to School: A significant issue in choosing non-nutritious foods is the disconnection of children from primary production. Children do not know where food comes from, creating a culture of ‘selective eating’. Connecting them with local production brings a new way of thinking.

The problem of nutrition-health is multifaceted and presents common characteristics in the U.S. and Europe. However, its importance rings an alarm bell, and policymakers are already attempting to bring about appropriate changes and provide solutions.

* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially if you have health issues, you are pregnant, or under the age of 6.

 Evropi-Sofia Dalampira holds a PhD in Agricultural Economics, MSc in Botany-Biology and MSc in Horticulture & Viticulture

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