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Eating for the environment
Eating for the environment

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1 Nutrition security

Nutrition security is vitally important for health and well-being. A lack of nutrition security manifests in malnutrition caused by not eating enough of the right things necessary for an active and healthy life. A nutritious diet consists of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) in certain proportions, and a wide range of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). But does the current global food production address these nutritional needs? Unfortunately, it does not. The 2017 Global Nutrition Report suggests that nutrition is still a large-scale and universal problem (Development Initiatives, 2017).

The global contradictions in the availability of food result in the double burden of malnutrition characterised by the coexistence of under-nutrition, along with overweight, obesity, or diet-related, non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.9 billion adults in the world are overweight and over 600 million of those are obese. At the same time, 600 million adults are underweight and 264 million women of reproductive age are affected by anaemia due to iron deficiency in their diet (WHO, 2017). WHO also estimates that 41 million children in the world under the age of five are overweight or obese, while 155 million children in the same age group are too short for their age and a further 52 million children in this age group are too thin for their height (WHO, 2017). The problem of malnutrition goes hand-in-hand with poverty and poverty makes nutritious food unaffordable.

In Activity 1, you will use the UK National Health Service guidelines for a balanced diet to assess the affordability of a nutritious dinner plate in different parts of the world.

Activity 1 How much does a balanced dinner plate cost?

Timing: Allow around 1 hour
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Figure 1 A summary of NHS Eatwell recommendations. Click on a food group label to see more information about the contents of that group.
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The main purpose of this activity is to compare a UK dinner plate with the dinner plate in a low-income country in terms of proportion of household income spent.

To begin, based on the recommended proportions in this NHS Eat Well Guide [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , calculate how much a balanced dinner plate will cost (per person) where you live. If you wish, you can choose a specific healthy recipe o choose the ingredients for a healthy meal that you can make already.

You may have an old shopping receipt that you can use to help you price your ingredients, or access to an online supermarket service that you can use for your estimates. Likewise, the Numbeo website provides information about the average cost of living in different parts of the world, including some typical food prices.

Once you have an estimate for the total cost of your meal, the next step is to compare it with some other values.

  1. First, calculate how the cost of your meal compares with monthly rent or mortgage prices for the area in which you live. Again, Numbeo may provide some useful data here, or you can base your calculation on your own experience of renting or owning a home.
  2. Now compare the cost of the same sort of dinner in a city within a low-income country (for example, Awassa in Ethiopia). You may have to do some additional online research to find approximate values for the same set of ingredients as you used for your initial analysis. Don’t worry if you can’t find exact prices for all of the ingredients – you only need indicative values for the purpose of this activity. How does the costs of the meal compare across the two locations?
  3. Finally, determine the average monthly rent or mortgage costs in the low-income location that you chose, and compare this with the cost of the meal in the same location.

Briefly summarise the outcomes of your analysis of the relative costs of food in the two locations you have studied. (Answer in fewer than 150 words.) An example answer, from a respondent based on Milton Keynes, UK, is provided below.

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This example answer is based on comparing the cost of living in a central apartment in Milton Keynes (i.e. around 4 km from the site of the OU’s main campus) and in Awassa, also referred to as Hawassa, in Ethiopia.

According to the Numbeo website (2019), a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant in central Milton Keynes can cost about £20 per person. In Awassa it is approximately £9.50.

Similarly, monthly rent of a one-bedroom, central apartment in Milton Keynes is roughly £825, compared to £125 in Awassa.

Therefore, the cost of a healthy meal in Milton Keynes is around 2.4% (about 1/40th) that of the rent, and in Awassa it is 7.6% (1/13th) of the rent. On the basis of this analysis, a person in this part of Ethiopia will have to spend much more on healthy food than a person in Milton Keynes.

Next you will look at the diversity of diets around the world and how dietary preferences impact food security.