Emerging Nutrition and Health Issues

Several emerging health issues that are related to dietary intake and lifestyle choices have made it essential to track eating habits and nutritional status over time. For example, obesity is an escalating epidemic through the world among both children and adults and a major concern because of its health consequences. Obesity has been linked to an array of health disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and disability. In 1995, WHO estimated that there were approximately 200 million obese adults worldwide and 18 million children younger than 5 years old classified as overweight. As of 2000, the number of obese adults had increased to more than 300 million. In the United States, 64.5% of adults were classified as overweight in 1999-2000, up from 46.0% in 1976-1980. Also, the percentage of overweight children in the United States (aged 5-14 years) has doubled in the same period from 15 to 32%. In England, the prevalence of obesity has doubled since 1980. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and European countries have all reported an increase in the proportion of obese adults and children. WHO has begun to formulate a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health under a 2002 mandate from the World Health Assembly. The overall goal of the strategy is to improve public health through healthy eating and physical activity.

Another issue of emerging international importance is that both the number and the proportion of people 60 years of age or older are increasing in almost all areas of the world, and these worldwide trends are expected to continue. In 2002, there were an estimated 605 million older people in the world. Table 3 shows the countries with the highest

Table 3 Countries with more than 10 million inhabitants in 2002 with the highest percentage of people older than age 60years and projections for 2025

2002

2025

Country

%

Country

%

Italy

24.5

Japan

35.1

Japan

24.3

Italy

34.0

Germany

24.0

Germany

33.2

Greece

23.9

Greece

31.6

Belgium

22.3

Spain

31.4

Spain

22.1

Belgium

31.2

Portugal

21.1

United Kingdom

29.4

United Kingdom

20.8

Netherlands

29.4

Ukraine

20.7

France

28.7

France

20.5

Canada

27.9

Data from the United Nations (www.who.int/hpr/ageing/ ActiveAgeingPolicyFrame.pdf).

Data from the United Nations (www.who.int/hpr/ageing/ ActiveAgeingPolicyFrame.pdf).

percentage of the population older than 60 years of age. As a consequence of this demographic change, NCDs have been estimated to account for approximately 60% of global deaths and 45% of the global burden of disease. Attention to this demographic change has resulted in changes in health policies in order to help the population achieve healthy and active aging. WHO has developed a policy framework that focuses on preventing and reducing the burden of disabilities and reducing the risk factors associated with NCDs. These policies include healthy eating and physical activity.

Research has consistently demonstrated that sufficient daily intake of fruit and vegetables could help prevent major NCDs, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. According to the 2002 World Health Report, up to 2.7 million lives could potentially be saved each year if fruit and vegetable consumption were increased. However, surveys conducted in Europe and the United States have indicated that the consumption of fruit and vegetables is lower than recommended for health. According to Kraisid Tontisirin, the director of FAO's Food and Nutrition Division, ''FAO faces the challenge to increase worldwide awareness of the health benefits of increased fruits and vegetable consumption. To effectively promote more consumption of fruit and vegetables, prevailing diets need to be more systematically assessed for their nutrition and health implications.''

These emerging issues linking nutrition and health outcomes reinforce the importance of developing and maintaining a nutrition surveillance system. However, direct and indirect methods of dietary data collection that can easily be applied in the field need to be developed further.

See also: Dietary Intake Measurement: Methodology; Validation. Dietary Surveys. Folic Acid. Food Fortification: Developed Countries; Developing Countries. Nutritional Surveillance: Developing Countries. Pregnancy: Prevention of Neural Tube Defects. World Health Organization.

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