Increasing food prices could lead to a decline in nutrition as people seek out cheaper, but not necessarily healthier, substitutes, a new report affirms.
The report from the U.N. Committee on World Food Security’s “High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition” comes at a time when Antiguans and Barbudans are witnessing rising food prices as a result of Hurricane Maria’s decimation of Dominica’s agriculture sector. The “Nature Isle” was the principal supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to these shores.
The report noted that studies have shown that changes in the relative prices of foods alter consumption behaviour and that, “sharper reductions in the prices of unhealthy foods than of healthy foods are expected to increase the consumption of unhealthy foods.”
The report, which was released on Monday, said that increased food prices also tend to reduce the quantity and quality of food consumed among poor households that spend a large proportion of their incomes on food.
According to the report, one of the ways in which people were coping with food crises was to switch to cheaper foods, often moving towards more processed and packaged items.
The report also highlighted what sociologists refer to as the “double shift” that many women live as a contributor to less healthy dietary choices. The report posited that gender relationships and norms were among the most significant drivers of food environments and diets.
“Women were doing more paid work than in the past and, with less time available to feed the family, were resorting to more convenience foods, ready-made meals and quick-cooking staples,” it stated.
“In many countries, women decide the household’s diet and, as primary caregivers, they have a strong influence on children’s nutritional status. Yet they are often disempowered and neglected, and their knowledge ignored. Moreover, considering that due to social norms, care work is unequally distributed, women are negatively impacted.”
The panel suggested that women’s and girl’s empowerment through education, information and access to resources and services was key for food safety and nutrition.
The report also considered the role of culture in agriculture since food was a reflection of peoples’ religions and social norms in many instances.
“Food is the product of agriculture so it goes without saying that food plays a powerful role in how we tie ourselves to the land and preserve our historic social traditions and culture. Food systems are consistently shaping our culture and traditions and vice versa.
The effects of all these scenarios, according to the report, included higher levels of stunting among children as well as impaired growth of infants and decreased maternal micronutrient status.
Food security, as defined by the U.N. committee, is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.