A Healthy Future Requires a New Approach

December 14, 2015 Gabriela Seplovich and Adriana Selwyn

Our current food system is broken. Global diets have shifted towards ones high in calories but lacking in nutrients, and over- and under-nutrition are responsible for the ill-health of millions. Unsustainable agricultural practices and consumption patterns are threatening the health of people and the planet.

If we are to meet the challenge of feeding an expected population of 9 billion by 2050, food systems must link environmental sustainability, agriculture, and human health. Traditionally, public health policies have focused on taxes, regulations, and educational campaigns. These have been effective for measures such as tobacco control and infectious disease prevention.

Thus far government policies have had limited success in addressing the complexity of healthy diets and environmental sustainability. Further, distrust of the private sector by many has limited collaboration with food and beverage companies. The complex and multifaceted nature of the problem requires broad-based approaches, including public-private partnerships. A new chapter published in “Food and Drug Regulation in an Era of Globalized Markets” expands on these issues and explores the balance between government regulation and private-sector initiatives.

Marion Nestle’s newest book, “Soda Politics” is an exposé of the soda industry and demands that the food and beverage industry be subject to the same level of scrutiny as cigarette companies. While this is indeed important, it is essential we work with the private sector to drive positive changes in a manner that promotes better health and is sustainable for businesses. Our text book chapter highlights examples of public-private partnerships that have achieved this, such as the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.

The private sector is in a unique position to not only promote health within their employee base, but to foster health by marketing healthy products. Studies show that investing in health can be profitable for big business, and this trend seems to be catching on. Companies are realizing that a healthy workforce and consumer base are necessary for long term financial success. Companies such as Novo Nordisk that have adopted The Triple Bottom Line, prioritizing profits, people, and planet, report higher employee retention and engagement which feed into their long-term success.

An unhealthy planet threatens economic vitality. The Chicago Council’s report “Healthy Food for a Healthy World” reports that the global decline in productivity will reach $35 trillion by 2030. Reframing climate change as an economic determinant can help businesses understand their key role in curbing deleterious environmental effects. The Rockefellar Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health  calls for a global social movement that supports the collective public health action at all levels of society. Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture is a global initiative that seeks to improve the health and delivery of our global food system through a multifaceted approach involving governments, the private sector, international organizations, civil society, and farmers associations.

The global food crisis will require strategic partnerships between the public and private sectors, with governments encouraging healthy behaviors and providing appropriate regulations while industries promote health conscious decision-making and deliver harm reducing products. Finding common ground and creating shared value can help us overcome this crisis and promote human and environmental longevity.

 

Image source: Sick Rose

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