Headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the vulnerability of our food system—far too many people continue to face food shortages or have not had the means to acquire healthy food. Never has food security been a more real concern for so many people. But behind the headlines, the problem is even more fundamental. There are 3 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet, while 2 billion people experience micronutrient deficiencies. Over 670 million adults are affected by obesity, with obesity also rising rapidly among children and adolescents. At the same time, over 150 million children under 5 years suffer from undernutrition, and every year 600 million people fall ill from unsafe food.  If current trends continue, these statistics will only get worse.

Unhealthy diets, because of choice or lack of access, are a major driver of this health crisis. Every year, 11 million people die prematurely due to unhealthy diets. Obesity and diet-related diseases have turned out to be the most important risk factor, beyond age, for severe outcomes and death of COVID-19. We need urgent action to make healthy foods available, affordable, and accessible for all people. At the same time, we must ensure these foods come from nature-positive food systems. Currently, food systems are responsible for nearly a third of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—primarily the result of land-use change, unsustainable livestock farming and decomposing food that is lost or wasted. Unsustainable food production also causes large amounts of soil degradation (52 percent of all farmland is degraded), is the principal driver of global biodiversity loss, destabilizes river ecosystems—which we rely for nearly one third of our food—and increases the risk of zoonotic virus spillover.

Currently, the issues of food security and environmental sustainability are trapped in a vicious cycle: climate change, biodiversity loss and water shortages weaken our ability to produce food, while unsustainable means of increasing yields increase the speed and extent of environmental degradation.

The ultimate solution is not to cure malnutrition and diet-related diseases, but rather to prevent their occurrence in the first place—by fundamentally re-thinking what food we consume and what methods we use to produce it. This requires nutrition and health professionals to collaborate with food producers and environmental professionals to ensure that a diversity of nutritious foods are produced in ways that support nature and within the carrying capacity of our ecosystems.

Read the full article about nutrition and the environment at Food Tank.