As the holiday season comes to life around us, the excitement of big family meals and long vacations are a mark of happy, festive times. Underlying this festive season are the ever popular complaints of gaining a few pounds from all the holiday treats, be it the thanksgiving turkey, an extra slice of pumpkin pie or those syrupy holiday Starbucks drinks that come around only one season of the year. However, these light-hearted acknowledgements of weight fluctuations and fatty holiday treats are just a small indication of a larger nutritional and food industry crisis, which stems from this matter-of-fact view of “fasting and feasting" (1).
World-wide nutrition is becoming a rising health concern as two notably interconnected conditions impact immense populations of people. According to the World Health Organization, these dual conditions consist of undernutrition, especially in children, and chronic disease such as diabetes due to long-term unhealthy nutritional habits (1).
In urbanized areas, the value of food and the growing availability of processed, unhealthy foods, or more generally, food lacking nutritional value is on the rise. The growth in the processed and fast food industry has severe health consequences as some of the most prolific and consequential public health epidemics that can be tied to eating and nutritional habits are impacted by these industries. In the United States alone, the CDC projects that one in three adults and one in six children are obese (2). Obesity is a major contributing factor to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, which are some of the leading causes of preventable death (2).
In more developing areas around the world and with lower socioeconomic groups, a greater amount of daily income is spent on food. With food choice being linked so directly to cost and the fact that healthy food options: fruits, vegetables and produce, are essentially always more expensive. Therefore, it’s no wonder that for those families on a tight budget fast food chains and processed, pre-made meals are the most resourceful means of putting food on the table; otherwise, a severe deficiency in food is the only option. Unfortunately, this economic condition additionally creates a population of people that are undernourished due to consistently poor eating habits and therefore prone to chronic illness.
Essentially, it is clear that malnutrition is not a condition that can be targeted from only one vantage point. It is an issue that is impacted by the globalization of the food industry, economic conditions of people in developing countries and lack of resources for health intervention through government policy. While there are major health issues that are being monitored and noted by worldwide policy, so many are tied directly to the core nutritional health of people that improving nutrition could in fact result in greater health outcomes for issues such as malaria, tuberculosis, pregnancy related deaths, and childcare (1). With this in mind more work needs to be done to target issues regarding food globalization, agriculture and poverty as they relate to the nutritional needs of the world population.
Overall, nutrition and its underlying economic, environmental, and social connections need to be given greater attention on a global public health forum. The day-to-day patterns of eating that many consider habitual have more than their fair share of unhealthy long term consequences simply due to the prevalence of unhealthy food options and the lack of global resources for combating overeating and under eating. The fact is that the food we eat forever impacts the condition of our physical and mental health. That this season is a time for good company and good food should also serve as a reminder to many of their privilege in having healthy, abundant food options where many around the country and the world struggle with eating disorders, mental health issues, chronic disease and generally poor meals on a daily basis.
1 http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2008/20080618/en/ 2 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db219.pdf