Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
More than a third of Brazilian households are in a “food insecure situation”, meaning there isn’t enough food to feed family members and food quality is too poor to ensure healthy life, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
This issue was the subject of a press conference discussion between two Brazilian scientists, Elibio Rech and Protásio Lemos da Luz, at the IAP conference of science academies in Rio de Janeiro this week (25 February).
Rech, a molecular biologist at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, defended a new metric for inequity and unsustainability which analyses components including human health (nutrient deficiencies, exposure to chemicals); social and economic well-being, including the percentage of children in school and the use of ecological knowledge; environmental sustainability (carbon dioxide emissions, energy management, nutrients and water efficiency); available technologies; economic prosperity (employment, price fluctuations etc); and food security (nourishment and food access).
“The equation is simple,” Rech said. “The problem is that there’s no political will to make it operational for transformation. Social issues can be changed with public policies, but the existing policies are fragile, because they focus only on one or two components. To provide water or technology is not enough. The sum of the components is needed.”
He added that very few changes have been made since 1995, when the first agricultural census was taken in the country.
In Rech’s opinion, the main component in the equation is child education. “It’s unacceptable to have children working in the fields,” he said. “They should be at school, but this won’t happen if the father doesn’t have credit access, tractors or animals for ploughing.”
Another aspect discussed at the press conference was the incidence of cardiovascular disease —currently the leading cause of global mortality — and its relation to the excessive consumption of fat and sodium (salt).
Cardiologist Protásio Lemos da Luz, from São Paulo University, explained that the risk factors are the same both in rich and poor countries.
“It’s a global epidemic,” he said. “One in four people in world are obese. Overweight, smoking and excessive salt consumption are the main causes [of cardiovascular disease] in poor countries; in rich countries, there is less hypertension and smoking, but carbohydrate consumption is higher. Even children and adolescents are obese,” he said.
The treatment for this disease involves medication and lifestyle changes, he added.
“Changing lifestyles is very difficult, but in Finland, reductions in butter consumption decreased heart diseases by 85 per cent. Reducing salt consumption in Brazil would represent a great economy in healthcare, Luz said.
He added that because children can influence their parents and the family in nutritional education, the policies should focus on them.
This blog post is part of our coverage of 2013 Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference which takes place 24-26 February 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.