A New Health Care Approach: The Right to Healthy Food

A New Health Care Approach: The Right to Healthy Food

Farmer's market

Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council on March 6th calling for governments to promote individuals’ right to a healthy diet. He argued that in all of its efforts to supply medical remedies to the malnourished (which, importantly, includes the 1.3 billion people who are overweight or obese), industrialized countries have done very little to, “tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms.” The right to food, De Schutter says, must not only assert access to sufficient calorie intake, but more specifically to nutritious, inexpensive food.

To reorient the food system to reflect sustainability, health, and equity, De Schutter identified five actions governments can take, which include taxing, regulating, and cracking down on the advertisement of unhealthy products, re-evaluating agricultural subsidies (which make some ingredients cheaper than others), and supporting local food production to make fresh, nutritious foods readily available.

The report addresses health from its very roots’agriculture’and has a determinedly holistic view. In the full report, the special rapporteur lays the foundation for his argument with the definition of what experts agree is a sustainable diet. A food system must provide food with, “low environmental impacts, which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.”

In light of that comprehensive definition, the special rapporteur’s description of current food systems as “dysfunctional” is unsurprising. As debates rage on in the U.S. about the band-aid of a health care system we currently have (or don’t have), turning the conversation to the root causes of our poor health will probably prove difficult. But if energies were used to recreate the food system, globally, governments could simultaneously tackle several urgent, global issues of sustainable health not just for individuals, but for the environment, animals, and communities as well.

Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan