The UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) says fast-growing, low income urban populations are facing a nutritional “double burden”.
“While they continue to face undernutrition, cities are now experiencing a double burden of malnutrition with the additional presence of over nutrition and obesity, which is associated with non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” the report says.
It will be presented at the UN Habitat 6th World Urban Forum in Naples, Italy, on September 4, 2012.
It says city dwellers have, “limited time for shopping and cooking, and therefore rely on processed and convenience foods, which are widely available in urban environments.”
“This signifies less fiber, minerals and vitamins, and more sugar, salt and fat.”
UNSCN notes action taken by the likes of the UK Department of Health which has instigated a salt reduction campaign in processed foods.
A regional French government initiative called Program for Nutrition, Prevention and Health of Children and Adolescents has improved the availability of healthy food at schools.
But urban zones where healthy food was unavailable continued to rise – zones known as food deserts.
“As a result of this expanding urbanisation and food supply chain, urban food deserts are becoming apparent,” UNSCN observes.
“These are areas within city centres with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, causing people to rely on small grocery or convenience stores that are more expensive and lack all foods needed for a healthy diet.”
The problem has won the attention of the US government which has created the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to identify food deserts and, “bring them more healthy food sources.”
UNSCN said zoning policies could help the problem by promoting healthy food outlets and grocery outlets and restricting fast food establishments in certain areas such as schools.
It concludes: “Malnutrition in all its forms creates a burden on cities and national health systems as well as on the lives and wellbeing of humans. Capacity building and awareness within the public sector, the private sector and civil society can help to address these issues by promoting the right to adequate food, ultimately leading to health and nutrition for all.”