U.N. Expert Calls Junk Food a Human Rights Concern

junk food
General Health

A United Nations (U.N.) expert says that when the world’s poor go shopping for food, they are often forced to choose between what they can afford and what is nutritious, calling the problem a human rights concern. [1]

Hilal Elver, the U.N.’s special representative on the right to food, blames free trade and increased industrial food production for excess amounts of cheap junk food, “effectively violating [many people’s] right to adequate food.”

Elver says that nearly 800 million people live in hunger worldwide, but more than 2 billion people are micro-nutrient deficient, and another 600 million people are obese.

Though many people don’t think of it this way, obese is often a sign – and the result – of malnourishment.

This is a topic I’ve written about before. In countries where there simply isn’t enough food to go around, people are emaciated with bloated bellies.

But in industrialized and developing countries, obesity is often a consequence of poverty, but also of location. Urban dwellers tend to live in areas where cheap “junk” food is everywhere, but access to healthy food like fresh produce is non-existent (food deserts).

According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stats from a few years ago, the most recent data available, children and adults in America on average consumed more than 12% of their daily calories from fast-food restaurants.

The agency noted, however, that in the U.S., people’s poverty status did not significantly affect those numbers. The facts run contrary to the long-held belief that the biggest consumers of fast-food in America are low-income families.

It’s important to note that obesity is just 1 problem linked to poor diet. Poor nutrition also wreaks havoc on the immune system. Researcher Ian A. Myles points out in an article published in the Nutrition Journal:

“The Western diet is characterized by an over consumption and reduced variety of refined sugars, salt and saturated fat.

Our poor dietary behaviors are encoded into both our DNA scaffolding and gut microbiome, and thus these harmful immune modifications are passed to our offspring.”

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Read: Junk Food More Deadly Than War, Famine, Genocide

Those behaviors can lead to increased inflammation, infection, cancer and allergies, Myles says.

To confront the problem of malnutrition, Elver said that states must do more than merely ensure that citizens have access to the minimum nutritional requirements needed for survival and ensure access to food that is highly nutritious. [2]

The international community is doing an abysmal job of meeting globally agreed upon nutrition targets intended to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms.

The biggest concern that Elver has, however, is the aggressive way in which junk food is marketed to children and developing countries. She is calling on governments to distance themselves from industrial food systems and embrace ecologically-friendly, sustainable systems.

Source: ChangeLab Solutions

She says:

“The first step is to recognize nutrition as an essential component of the human right to adequate food, reinforced by monitoring accountability and transparency.”


[1] Medical Daily

[2] Associated Press

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

ChangeLab Solutions