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This year on April 7, World Health Day, focuses on high blood pressure, one of the many chronic diseases that are increasingly common around the world.
The World Health Organization reports that one third of adults worldwide have high blood pressure, and one in ten adults worldwide have diabetes. These diseases are already well known in the United States, where high blood pressure affects 31 percent of American adults. However, the highest levels of hypertension now occur in many African countries, where more than 40 percent of adults are affected, but where the money and infrastructure needed for treatment are most lacking.
While there are multiple causes of high blood pressure and other chronic diseases, poor diets are among the most significant. The world today is facing a food paradox. There are nearly one billion people hungry and one billion people overweight, and in many countries these problems now exist simultaneously. Although they may seem to be opposite problems, reports from groups such as the Barilla Center for Food Nutrition have linked both hunger and obesity with diets lacking in nutrients.
“Many of the best anti-hunger and anti-obesity groups have been so focused on their own important work that they have not been able to come together on common challenges,” says Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank. “The solutions to hunger, obesity and agriculture issues are all out there. We need to bring our visions for the food system together to make these solutions a reality.”
In honor of World Health Day, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is highlighting the importance of nutritious, environmentally sustainable food in combating hypertension, obesity, malnutrition and other diseases.
Over the past 50 years, the modern agriculture system has had great success boosting crop yields around the world; however, The Organic Center, reports that the amount and variety of essential nutrients in many crops has declined. The result is that the same amount of sweet corn, potatoes, or bread now has far less zinc, calcium, and iron than it did 50 years ago.
Global emphasis on calorie content has increased access to high calorie, processed foods around the world, even as access to nutrient rich fruits and vegetables has declined. For example, a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that, as a result of the food industry’s demand for refined grains and sugars, only two percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables.
“One of the most powerful tools in changing the nutrient value of the foods farmers grow is choice. In the U.S. and across the developing world, farmers armed with knowledge about new markets for their products and more effective farming practices, as well as the freedom to choose how and what they grow, are taking the initiative to do things differently.