by Christina Tirado, June 25, 2012

Unsustainable development, environmental degradation and climate change, volatile markets and governance issues have led to resource scarcity, poverty and food and nutrition insecurity in many regions.   

While almost 1 billion people suffer from under-nutrition, more than a billion adults worldwide were overweight in 2010, and 500 million adults are clinically obese. Obesity and many chronic diseases are related to diets with high saturated fats and to low fruit and vegetable intake such as CVD , diabetes and cancer were the cause of 63% of the global deaths (35 million deaths), 80% of which were in low and middle-income countries. This is called the double-burden of malnutrition which affects mainly low and medium income countries. Poverty, inequities and access issues are at the heart of this dichotomous challenge.

Strategies that aim to bring co-benefits to health and the environment through sustainable food production and consumption, and food waste reduction can generate greater overall benefits for food and nutrition security, health, climate and environment protection.  Sustainable diets are promoted as strategies to direct consumers choices towards more sustainable and healthy food patterns.

Sustainable diets are healthy (i.e. rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes and low in saturated fats from animal origin), environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. Sustainable diets also address under-nutrition, ecosystems degradation, and biodiversity loss. This represents a swift shift towards a health-promoting agriculture and food policies.

Health promoting agriculture and food policies provide incentives to the production of fruits, vegetables and legumes which have a positive impact on health while reducing GHG emissions.  Producing and consuming fewer animal-based foods helps to lower the intake of saturated fats associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity while reducing environmental impact.  In this context, we need an inclusive agriculture that is accessible to people, resilient and provides nutritious, safe and healthy food while protecting and conserving natural resources, ecosystems and their functions. Decreasing under-nutrition while promoting healthy and sustainable food production systems and consumption patterns will require strong transparent intersectoral and multistakeholders partnerships worldwide.

The Center of Public Health and Climate Change at PHI has co-organized with WFP, IFOAM and Biovision a learning event on "Reshaping food access and consumption patterns to ensure nutritional needs while fostering healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide” at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day in Rio+20 See, The Center was also addressing  the agriculture R&D needs for nutrition and health you can see us at

by Jeff Meer, June 05, 2012

As those who have followed the United Nations proceedings on non communicable diseases (NCDs) know, one piece of unfinished business is the establishment of global targets to help quantify the global response to this increasing epidemic. On May 25, the delegates to the World Health Assembly took a large step in that direction, by agreeing to the world's first NCD target.  As widely reported, including hereand here, delegates from 194 countries agreed to the goal of slashing premature deaths from NCDs such as cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, cancer and diabetes by 25 percent by the year 2025. The resolution also laid out a timetable through the end of October 2012, during which the international community will discuss and perhaps adopt other targets related to NCDs, including on obesity, alcohol, tobacco, physical inactivity.

Organizations including the NCD Alliance trumpeted the adoption of the global NCD mortality reduction goal as a singular achievement that will have a lasting impact. This is certainly an accomplishment, based upon the fact that fewer than five years ago, the idea of attacking the scourge of NCDs might have seemed quixotic at best. World leaders meeting in 2007 would not have been aware of the problem of NCDs increasing dramatically in low- and middle-income countries, let alone able to come to agreement on a numerical target. 

But what does it actually mean that there is now such a target? In fact, many other targets have come and gone with varying success.  The Millennium Development Goals, for example, adopted at the dawn of the 21st century with much fanfare by the governments that make up the United Nations, were supposed to be achieved by 2015, a scant three years from now.  But many of these are far from achieved, and several -- including the goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent -- seem completely out of reach. The new NCD target is entirely voluntary and unenforceable.  There is no sanction against nations that do not meet it. And there are also significant data collection challenges since the majority of countries do not keep accurate statistics on cause of death.

And yet, most global health experts agree that having such a target will certainly spur action.  Organizations including the UN Development Program and the World Bank are beginning to factor NCD prevention and treatment into their country planning on the assumption that countries where they work will request additional assistance.  And some nations may take the additional step of adopting national programs and frameworks to reduce the prevalence of NCDs. Regional organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization are adopting strategies to help nations better plan for their own NCD mortality reduction work.

Of the 36 million deaths attributable to NCDs in 2008, the World Health Organization estimates that "a large percentage" are preventable through the reduction in four risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and an unhealthy diet. These factors together account for at least 11.5 million deaths. In addition, at least 2 million fatal cases of cancer are attributed to infections that are preventable. And millions more people die because of disease stemming from eating unhealthy foods high in salt, sugar and fat.  In all, reducing these factors by 25 percent could save at least 3.3 million lives every year.  

As WHO Director General Margaret Chan said during the UN High Level Meeting in September 2011, quoting management expert Peter Drucker, "What gets measured gets done." Put another way, until we start measuring the problem, we don't even know how large a problem we have to solve.  That alone should be enough to get us started.


by Dr. Mary Pittman, President and CEO of PHI, May 30, 2012

Like many women of her generation, Sue was careful to get prenatal care and watch her weight gain as her doctor advised.  In the early 1960s there were no warnings to avoid smoking or alcohol during pregnancy and no information about the potential hazards of environmental chemicals, either for Sue’s own health or the health of her baby.  Now in 2012, new information suggests that some exposures that were not in Sue’s control, including some pesticides and industrial chemicals, may have affected her health and the health of her children.  Nearly all persons in the U.S. were exposed through food.

This week’s observance of National Women’s Health Week, with its theme of “This Is Your Time,” underscores the need for every woman to stay vigilant, through regular health screenings, good nutrition and exercise, about maintaining her own health. I applaud the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for raising awareness this week that individual women need to make their own health a priority.

But I would like to broaden the conversation. So many of the threats to women’s health stem not just from their own choices but the environment they live in, the public policies that affect them and their access to health care – all factors beyond their control. I’m referring to things like whether a woman has health insurance to pay for health screenings, breathes air that is polluted or lives in a low-income community, or even whether medications are available to meet her distinct needs.

Guiding all of the work we do at the Public Health Institute (PHI) is the awareness of the social and economic factors that contribute to everyone’s health. Many of our cutting-edge programs focus on ways to change the conditions that shape a woman’s health and better understand her health needs:

  • The Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) at PHI is a landmark longitudinal study that tracks the health of 15,000 pregnant women from the SF Bay Area between the years 1959 and 1967 – such as Sue above – as well as their children. Their work includes the Three Generations Breast Cancer Study, the first womb-to-breast cancer study in the world, which also examines disparities in environmental exposures and breast cancer. CHDS is uniquely able to trace the long-term effects of environmental exposures in women and girls, examining the effects of chemicals including DDT and PCBs on fertility, pregnancy and the health of the mothers who were exposed and their children and grandchildren.
  • In Kenya and Tanzania, PHI supports local organizations to increase women’s access to Misoprostol. An inexpensive and widely available drug, Misoprostol can prevent post-partum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion, the two leading causes of maternal mortality in many countries. Most important, evidence now shows that women can use this drug safely, in their communities, without going to a facility or seeing a provider.
  • PHI’s Global Clean Cookstoves Project is at the forefront of developing clean energy technologies to make cooking safe, environmentally sound, and healthy for women and families. Together with scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, PHI is field-testing state-of-the-art stoves with village women in Western Kenya to replace open-fire cookstoves used by 3 billion people worldwide. By identifying stoves that reduce killer levels of exposure, PHI hopes to reduce the impact of cookstove smoke, the fifth leading cause of death in developing countries.
  • The Coalition Advancing Multipurpose Innovations (CAMI) at PHI works with researchers, biotechnology developers, policymakers, advocates and providers to promote the development and distribution of prevention products with more than one purpose. The products would prevent unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and other illnesses. For example, testing of a microbicide gel supported by CAMI has been shown to protect against acquiring both the AIDS virus and the genital herpes virus.

These programs don’t just better the conditions, health and lives of millions of women. Together, they are building stronger families and communities. Investing in women and mothers has a huge multiplier effect on the well-being and productivity of the family, the community, the nation and the world.

Read more:


by Jose Luis Vivero, May 22, 2012

The following blog was cross-posted, with permission, from the Hunger Politics Blog.  You can find the full paper HERE. 

Author: JOSE LUIS VIVEROFellow of Chair on Hunger and Poverty Studies (Universidad de Cordoba, Spain), OPEX Panel member at Fundación Alternativas and PhD Candidate in Global Food Governance (Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium).

The difficulties encountered during the Doha Round at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have made imperative a new debate on global food politics and the perverse effects of the current food production and trade model on the poor food producers. Many critics have long argued that removing agriculture from the WTO would be the necessary first step[1]. WTO law does not really consider the full range of human, social and environmental rights and the factors that define agricultural specificity. Bread cannot be equally considered than coal, as we do not need coal to survive but we do need bread (as an iconic image of food for westerners, although I could have said rice, maize of fish). Even if the current gridlock could be overcome, it is unlikely that the WTO Agreement of Agriculture, with its single-minded emphasis on export production, will encourage farming practices that respect ecological limits and contribute to food security[2].

Therefore, the WTO and the international trade legal framework do not seem to be the appropriate scenario where the world´s food security should be debated. No government should be forced to choose between honouring its commitments made under free trade treaties or at the WTO, and honouring its obligations regarding the right to food[3]. With the Doha Round of WTO negotiations at an impasse, the time has cometo remove agriculture from the purview of the WTO and to assess whether an alternative global governance regime might better address the converging food, climate, and agrobiodiversity crises.

The post-MDG negotiating process is already starting, and there is ample evidence that several MDG goals will not be achieved by 2015, no matter how fast and committed the world will be in the years to come. Basically, all the four MDGs directly related to an improved nutritional status are deemed to fail (MDG 1, 2, 4, 5). In that sense, several proposals are making its way to present international binding agreements as feasible solutions to soft commitments (i.e. verbal promises and written declarations). We need to transit from soft-law declarations of good will to hard-law binding agreements, with specific monitorable goals, calendar of financial disbursements, ratified by Parliaments, with sanction and redress mechanisms, more participatory and accountable and with peer-to-peer assessment mechanisms. Three proposals are presented below:


2. Climate Change:


Hopefully, stronger binding agreements may be the next wave of international commitments in the post-MDG talks, what could be called the Post-MDG Consensus.

[1] Rosset, PM (2006). Food is different: Why we must get the WTO out of agriculture. Zed Books, London.

[2] Gonzalez, CG (2012). The global food system, environmental protection, and human rights. Natural Resources & Environment, Vol 26, No. 3. on 15 April 2012

[3] De Schutter, O (2011). The World Trade Organization and the post-global food crisis agenda: putting food security first in the international trade system. Briefing note by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Louvain.


by Cristina Tirado, Director of PHI's Center for Public Health and Climate Change, April 23, 2012

There are multiple pathways through which climate change may impact food safety, including: changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, ocean warming and acidification, and changes in contaminants’ transport pathways among others. Climate change may also affect socio-economic aspects related to food systems such as agriculture, animal production, global trade, demographics and human behavior which all influence food safety and health.

Temperature increases and changes in rainfall patterns have an impact on the persistence and patterns of occurrence of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi and the patterns of their corresponding foodborne diseases. Such changes also have an impact on microbial growth, plant and animal physiology and host susceptibility which may result in the emergence, redistribution and changes in the incidence and intensity of plant and animal diseases and pest infestations, all of which could impact foodborne diseases and zoonoses.  

Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts may lead to contamination of soil, agricultural lands, water and food and animal feed with pathogens, chemicals and other hazardous substances, originating from sewage, agriculture and industrial settings.

Emergency situations after natural disasters are of special concern for water and food sanitation.

Ocean warming and climate change, related acidification and changes in ocean salinity and precipitation, also affect the biochemical properties of water, along with water microflora, fisheries distribution, fish metabolic rates, and persistence and patterns of occurrence of pathogenic Vibrios, harmful algal blooms and chemical contaminants in fish and shellfish.

These impacts in turn have substantial public health, economic, social and environmental consequences.

PHI's Center of Public Health and Climate Change has been collaborating with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), and the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership Program from the Minnesota University to educate future food safety leaders from 34 countries in the Americas to address the impacts of Climate Change in Food Safety at a regional leadership training in Panama. You can find the training program HERE. 


by Cristina Tirado, Director of PHI's Center for Public Health and Climate Change, April 19, 2012

"we are working towards a paradigm shift in recognizing the leadership of women in responding to the climate crisis."  Eleanor Blomstrom (WEDO)


This year the priority theme at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has been the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.

The Global Gender Climate Alliance (GGCA) and the NGO- CSW Forum co-organized a Learning Circle on Gender and Climate Change with the contribution of groups such as WEDO, UNDP, UN Women, Huairou Commission, Public Health Institute (PHI), UNISDR, IUCN, WOCAN and ENERGIA.  Special Guest respondents included Mrs. Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice and Hon. Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, South Africa

Nearly 150 participants joined in the Learning Circles on Gender and Climate at the CSW56 in NY. The learning circles addressed issues including: Mitigation, Adaptation, Advocacy, Finance, Risk reduction, Grassroots community strategies and Health and food and nutrition security which was facilitated by the Center of Public Health Public Health Institute.


You can find the full report HERE.