Promoting healthy diets and tackling obesity and diet-related chronic diseases: what are the agricultural policy levers?

Corinna Hawkes
Food and Nutrition Bulletin 2007, 28 (2 Suppl): S312-22

BACKGROUND: Diet-related chronic diseases are now a serious global public health problem. Public health groups are calling for the agricultural sector to play a greater role in tackling the threat.

OBJECTIVE: To identify potential points of policy intervention in the agricultural sector that could be leveraged to promote healthy diets and tackle obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.

METHODS: A review of the literature on the dietary implications of agriculture, a conceptual analysis of the issues, and the identification of relevant examples.

RESULTS: There are two main potential points of intervention in the agricultural sector that could be leveraged to promote healthy diets: agricultural policies and agricultural production practices. Agricultural policies and practices affect diet through their influence on food availability, price, and nutrient quality, which in turn affects food choices available to consumers. Agricultural policies amenable to intervention include input, production, and trade policies; agricultural production practices amenable to intervention include crop breeding, crop fertilization practices, livestock-feeding practices, and crop systems diversity.

CONCLUSIONS: It is well-known that agricultural policies and production practices influence what farmers choose to grow. Agricultural policies and production practices could also play a role in influencing what consumers choose to eat. To identify how agricultural policies and practices can usefully contribute toward promoting healthy diets and tackling obesity and diet-related chronic diseases, health policymakers need to examine whether current agricultural policies and production practices are contributing to-or detracting from-efforts to attain dietary goals; where and how could agricultural intervention help achieve dietary goals; and whether there are trade-offs between these interventions and other important concerns, such as undernutrition and the livelihoods of agricultural producers. Given the potential of agriculture to contribute to large-scale, population-level dietary improvements, these questions warrant closer attention from health policymakers.

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