Journal article Open Access

The ongoing nutrition transition thwarts long-term targets for food security, public health and environmental protection

Bodirsky, Benjamin Leon

The nutrition transition transforms food systems globally and shapes public health and environmental change. Here we provide a global forward-looking assessment of a continued nutrition transition and its interlinked symptoms in respect to food consumption. These symptoms range from underweight and unbalanced diets to obesity, food waste and environmental pressure. We find that by 2050, 45% (39–52%) of the world population will be overweight and 16% (13–20%) obese, compared to 29% and 9% in 2010 respectively. The prevalence of underweight approximately halves but absolute numbers stagnate at 0.4–0.7 billion. Aligned, dietary composition shifts towards animal-source foods and empty calories, while the consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts increases insufficiently. Population growth, ageing, increasing body mass and more wasteful consumption patterns are jointly pushing global food demand from 30 to 45 (43–47) Exajoules. Our comprehensive open dataset and model provides the interfaces necessary for integrated studies of global health, food systems, and environmental change. Achieving zero hunger, healthy diets, and a food demand compatible with environmental boundaries necessitates a coordinated redirection of the nutrition transition. Reducing household waste, animal-source foods, and overweight could synergistically address multiple symptoms at once, while eliminating underweight would not substantially increase food demand.

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