BATON ROUGE, La. – Only three billion of the seven billion people in the world are well-nourished, according to Lindsay Allen, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service Western Human Nutrition Research Center. She said this is a problem in both wealthy and poor countries.
Allen spoke about enabling people to be better nourished at the annual Patrick Lecture Series during an evening reception and lecture program in the Energy, Coast and Environment Building on the LSU campus on March 26.
Allen said in developing countries nutrient deficiencies are often a result of low calorie intake and lack of food with high nutritional value. In wealthier countries, like the United States, people consume an excessive amount of calories, but make poor choices. Thus, their diets also lack the proper amount of nutrients.
She pointed out that excessive calorie intake is becoming more of a problem for people in developing parts of the world as well.
“Two billion people have adequate or excessive calories, but poor quality food,” she said. “There you will see obesity, chronic diseases, micro-nutrient deficiencies, stunting and death.”
She said diabetes is becoming a serious health concern in developing countries.
“Eighty percent of people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries,” she said.
Allen’s research focuses on the prevalence, causes and consequences of micronutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, primarily in developing countries.
She spoke about efforts to give people better access to healthful foods. One program she highlighted gave loans to women in Ghana to help them produce and sell nutrient-rich foods.
She also said agriculture needs to be a solution in this problem, citing Bangladesh as an example. “There is a huge gap between what people need and what agriculture is producing in Bangladesh,” she said, noting that zero percent of the population meets the daily requirements for calcium, vitamin A and folate and less than 20 percent meet the needs for vitamins C and B-12 and riboflavin.
In the United States, where quality foods are available, 48 million people are food insecure, many of them children. Allen said a big push is being made to improve the quality of school breakfasts and lunches. She said food labeling and logos are changing to make it easier for people to understand and choose the healthier options.
She stressed that it doesn’t take long for people to see improvements in their health after making changes in their diets.
“In just one week we can show improvements in metabolism, cholesterol and blood pressure,” she said.
Ruth Patrick, a retired food and nutrition specialist with the LSU AgCenter, helped introduce the lecture series. She, along with her late husband Bill Patrick, who was director of the LSU Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute, established the Patrick Lecture Series in 1998 through an endowment to the LSU Foundation.
The subject of the annual Patrick Lecture alternates between human nutrition/food science and wetland sciences/coastal studies, which reflect the professional interests of the donors. Tobie Blanchard
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