From hunger to obesity – MSc-thesis by Sonia Zaharia

By Sonia Zaharia, MSc-student Organic Agriculture.

Many low-income countries deliberately pursue agricultural specialization to increase yields and thereby lift their population out of hunger and poverty. Trade is supposed to offset the implied lower diversity of food production and deliver a food supply that supports the health of their population. This study challenges this assumption. I investigate the link between the prevalence of overweight and agricultural specialization. Using a fixed-effects panel regression on data from 65 low- and middle-income countries over the period 1975-2013, I find that countries in which agricultural production is more specialized have a larger share of overweight women. The positive relationship is higher in countries with lower per capita income. The correlation is not statistically different from zero for the male population, which confirms existing empirical evidence that malnourishment tends to be more frequent for women than for men. My results suggest that there are negative health implications of agricultural specialization in poor countries.

My full thesis From hunger to Obesity: agricultural specialization and obesity in low- and middle income countries can be downloaded from the WUR-Library.

Good food nation: reversing obesity via local food systems

Recently the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Columbia University published the results of a study on reversing America’s obesity epidemic by reorganising the system of food production, processing and distribution. According to the researchers obesity is widespread due to the national-scale system of food production and distribution, which surrounds children — especially lower-income children — with high-calorie products. Up to 90% of American food is processed, which contains ingredients, often acting as preservatives, that can make food fattening. The MIT and Columbia researchers propose a solution:

 America should increase its regional food consumption. Each metropolitan area, the researchers say, should obtain most of its nutrition from its own “foodshed,” a term akin to “watershed” meaning the area that naturally supplies its kitchens. Moreover, in a novel suggestion, the MIT and Columbia team says these local efforts should form a larger “Integrated Regional Foodshed” system, intended to lower the price and caloric content of food by lowering distances food must travel, from the farm to the dinner table.

For more information, you can read the complete press release by MIT or go the online project results.