The Pandemic Is Putting People Around The World At Risk Of Malnutrition
Malnutrition is a massive problem around the world – and has been for many years. But the pandemic is compounding the problem, forcing many people into “food poverty.”
According to Northumbria University’s Feeding Britain study, around 25 per cent of adults struggle to adequately feed themselves during the pandemic, due to loss of income, job insecurity, and simple inability to obtain groceries. The worry is that we could be in the midst of a food crisis, where parents go hungry to allow their kids to eat.
The fact that the number is so high is a shocking indictment on the state of the UK economy. According to one of the researchers on the project, the figures paint an appalling picture of the current food situation across the country. Nearly one in four people can’t get access to the essential nutrition they need to live a healthy life.
The pandemic has meant that more and more people are relying on food banks to make up the shortfall between what they have, and what they can afford. Policymakers, however, would like to move people away from this setup and ensure that everyone has the means to buy their own food.
The problems, however, aren’t unique to Britain. This year’s Qurbani appeal, coming up in July, will focus on providing nutrition to some of the most impoverished communities in the world. Many people are cutting their budgets back to the bone, avoiding high-cost, nutritious foods, like meat. Now, religious charities are stepping in to fill the gap, offering animals that will provide vulnerable people with much-needed animal protein.
People Are Buying Cheaper Food
The pandemic has had a profound effect on the type of food that people are buying. When surveyed, around half of all adults said that they’d switched to cheaper brands since the onset of the crisis. And now budget chains, like Aldi and Lidl, are looking to make significant gains against the leading supermarkets.
The same data showed that nine out of ten people in the most deprived decile of the population had changed their food purchasing habits. And these are the most food-insecure homes.
Cheaper food isn’t necessarily lower quality from a nutritional standpoint. Red cabbage and black beans are both highly nutritious and very inexpensive. But buyers aren’t shifting over to these foods. Instead, they’re looking for bargain convenience foods to replace the slightly more nutritious foods that they’d usually buy. And that’s increasing the risk of severe malnutrition and exhaustion.
What people eat makes a big difference to their long-term prospects. Study participants who eat more than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day reported significantly lower rates of anxiety and depression compared to controls. And families eating a healthy diet reported far less oral health issues in both adults and children, than those eating processed junk.
The costs of a poor diet are enormous, and something that has ramifications on the rest of society. Cheap high-fat, high-sugar processed foods are associated with high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and iron deficiency.
Problems With The Supply Chain
At the start of the crisis, many people worried that the pandemic would lead to a shut down of the food supply chain. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and the wheels of industry continued turning. But COVID-19 has imposed significant disruption costs on the food distribution system, and companies will be looking to make up the shortfall. Prices for everyday food items, therefore, could rise dramatically over the coming months, making accessing food even more difficult for those on low incomes.
Hunger Is Now A Real Issue
The idea that people could go hungry in a developed country like the UK. But according to the director of Feeding Britain, it is not a reality. The study reveals that there are millions of people who are eating less so that their families can have more during the pandemic.
Hunger is widely regarded as the most significant risk factor for malnutrition. When people eat insufficient calories, it increases the likelihood of nutrient shortfalls, even if they’re eating a quality diet. Over time, these deficiencies can compound, leading to a host of health problems, described above.
The authors of the research suggest policy measures to protect people from food shortages. They’re recommending that every household in Britain have access to enough food of sufficient quality to keep them going, no doubt at the taxpayer’s expense.
Problems With The Food Supply Around The World
Both the World Food Programme and UN are warning that disasters around the world, including the coronavirus pandemic, are putting food supplies at risk. According to the UN High Commissioner, around have of children develop long-term complications if they experience nutritional deficiencies when they are young.
The biggest problem globally right now is feeding the world’s refugee populations, many of whom live in tightly-packed camps. It is becoming more difficult for aid workers to supply these communities, both because of access issues, and dwindling food stocks in many developing countries.
Refugee populations in Uganda saw a 30 per cent reduction in the number of calories they received, according to the WPB, thanks to a lack of funding.
Populations who were previously able to provide adequate food for themselves are also experiencing difficulties because of the global economic recession. Lack of trade, loss of export markets, and the failure of the tourism industry are having an outsized effect on livelihoods. Those on the margins are finding themselves slipping back into genuine poverty, unable to put food on the table. In South Africa, for instance, there’s a pressing need for humanitarian action.
Food assistance is declining mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. In Cameroon, for instance, the WFP says that has had to slash food deliveries by 50 per cent because of gaps in funding as wealthy western donors pull out.
The long-term impact of this crisis, however, will be rising food prices. If supply chains chug to a halt, it will push up the cost of food, and that will mean that fewer people can access nutritious fare.