evidence-based blog of Filippo Dibari

Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Raising concerns over Dairy Farmer’s of Canada’s influence on Nutrition Month

In Over-nutrition, Under-nutrition on March 10, 2018 at 9:02 am

from Pamela Fergusson, PhD, blog webpage

Dietitians of Canada is currently hosting one of the biggest events of the year, Nutrition Month. This is a great opportunity to promote healthy eating to the public, but as a Registered Dietitian I am concerned to see that Dairy Farmer’s of Canada are one of the three official campaign sponsors.

As sales of dairy milk have been slumping in Canada for the last 30 years,  and dairy is likely to lose its status as a unique food group in the new Canada’s Food Guide, slated to be released later in 2018, dairy is under threat. It is, therefore, no surprise that Dairy Farmer’s of Canada want to partner with Dietitians of Canada to give a health halo to their product and potentially boost consumer confidence and sales.


But, is it ethical for Dietitians of Canada to partner with industry? On their “About Us” page, Dietitians of Canada state:Our purpose is to advance health through food and nutrition; including providing evidence-based food and nutrition information. Could a partnership with Industry bias the information shared in the Nutrition Month campaign?

As a vegan I acknowledge that I am biased against animal agriculture’s influence on health professionals. However, I want to be clear that I would prefer to see no food or agricultural industry sponsorship of Nutrition Month. This includes other current or previous sponsors like Mexican Avocados or Canadian Lentils

As part of Nutrition Month, there are 15 ‘Feature Recipes’. Nine of those 15 recipes include dairy products in the ingredients list. There are also five Fact Sheets. Each of those fact sheets carry the Dairy Farmer’s of Canada logo, along with the logos of other sponsors.

The official Nutrition Month poster was produced by Dairy Farmer’s of Canada, and to order or download it, Dietitians of Canada’s 6000 members must visit a site called DairyNutrition.ca This seems like a pretty powerful and insidious way to influence the views of Registered Dietitians, who are Canada’s trusted nutrition professionals. IMG_5653

DairyNutrition.ca is unsurprisingly and unabashedly pro-dairy. Their Scientific Evidence tab, is headed with the statement “It is well known that milk products are an integral part of a healthy diet” and their ‘Facts and Fallacies’ section states that “Scientific evidence supports the fact that there is no need to be concerned about the health consequences of consuming milk products”. These statements are more propaganda than evidence. IMG_5658

In fact, the data on dairy consumption are mixed, and some recent studies have linked dairy consumption with increased cancer mortality, development of diabetes and increased risk of heart disease. It is disingenuous to promote milk products as unequivocally healthy.

As a Registered Dietitian, I am concerned about this alignment with industry. Not only the dairy industry, but I am concerned about any player in the food or agricultural industry influencing the advice that health professionals give Canadians.

I would prefer to see no food or agricultural sponsors of Dietitians of Canada activities, including Nutrition Month. Dietitians of Canada has already taken the courageous step of removing industry sponsorship from their annual conference, except at the clearly marked ‘sponsor showcase’.

If there are to be sponsors, the details of the sponsorship should be public and transparent. How much money was involved? What is that money used for? Are there any benefits to sponsors in terms of promotion of their products in Nutrition Month recipes, posters or fact sheets?

I could not find any public disclosure documents about the details of their partnership with Dairy Farmer’s of Canada on the Dietitians of Canada website. Dietitians and the public need to be protected from the influence of industry.

Dietitians of Canada may argue that these campaigns are expensive to mount, and that it is impossible without food or agricultural industry sponsorship. That may be the case, however it is worth noting that Dietitians of Canada finds the funds to pay its own employees high salaries. The Chief Executive Officer makes about $350K, which is nearly six times greater than the average Registered Dietitian’s salary of 60K

Ties between Dairy Farmer’s of Canada and Dietitians of Canada run deep. Dairy Farmer’s of Canada have sponsored Nutrition Month for many years. Also, the new Chief Executive Officer at Dietitians of Canada, Nathalie Savoie previously worked for Dairy Farmer’s of Canada for ten years. For three of those years she was concurrently serving on the Dietitians of Canada Board of Directors. Nathalie has been open about her ties to industry, which is promising, and hopefully she will take on her new role with a fresh and impartial perspective.

Questions remain, about the use of industry funding in Dietitians of Canada. I think Dietitians of Canada needs to carefully examine their ethics and policies around accepting and allocating funds.

I am proud to be a Registered Dietitian, however I am concerned about how industry might be influencing the nutrition messages we communicate to the public. I am calling for a ban on industry sponsorship at best, or at least total disclosure and transparency about these relationships.

Policy: Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals

In Under-nutrition on June 27, 2016 at 7:34 am
Nature 534, 320–322 – (16 June 2016) – doi:10.1038/534320a

Måns Nilsson, Dave Griggs and Martin Visbeck present a simple way of rating relationships between the targets to highlight priorities for integrated policy.


Next month in New York, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development will have its first global progress review. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the agenda represents a new coherent way of thinking about how issues as diverse as poverty, education and climate change fit together; it entwines economic, social and environmental targets in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as an ‘indivisible whole’.

Implicit in the SDG logic is that the goals depend on each other — but no one has specified exactly how. International negotiations gloss over tricky trade-offs. Still, balancing interests and priorities is what policymakers do — and the need will surface when the goals are being implemented. If countries ignore the overlaps and simply start trying to tick off targets one by one, they risk perverse outcomes. For example, using coal to improve energy access (goal 7) in Asian nations, say, would accelerate climate change and acidify the oceans (undermining goals 13 and 14), as well as exacerbating other problems such as damage to health from air pollution (disrupting goal 3).

If mutually reinforcing actions are taken and trade-offs minimized, the agenda will be able to deliver on its potential. For example, educational efforts for girls (goal 4) in southern Africa would enhance maternal health outcomes (part of goal 3), and contribute to poverty eradication (goal 1), gender equality (goal 5) and economic growth (goal 8) locally.

The importance of such interactions is built into the SDGs: ‘policy coherence’ is one of the targets. The problem is that policymakers and planners operate in silos. Different ministries handle energy, agriculture and health. Policymakers also lack tools to identify which interactions are the most important to tackle, and evidence to show how particular interventions and policies help or hinder progress towards the goals. Many preconceptions that influence decisions are outdated or wrong, such as the belief that rising inequalities are necessary for economic growth, or that mitigating climate change is bad for productivity growth in the long term1.

To make coherent policies and strategies, policymakers need a rubric for thinking systematically about the many interactions — beyond simply synergies and trade-offs — in order to quickly identify which groups could become their allies and which ones they will be negotiating with. And they need up-to-date empirical knowledge on how the goals and interventions of one sector affect another positively or negatively.

As a first step, we propose a seven-point scale of SDG interactions (see ‘Goals scoring’) to organize evidence and support decision-making about national priorities. This should help policymakers and researchers to identify and test development pathways that minimize negative interactions and enhance positive ones. And it is globally applicable so that countries can compare and contrast, and learn from each other and over time.

Goals scoring

The influence of one Sustainable Development Goal or target on another can be summarized with this simple scale.
Interaction Name Explanation Example
+3 Indivisible Inextricably linked to the achievement of another goal. Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is indivisible from ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership.
+2 Reinforcing Aids the achievement of another goal. Providing access to electricity reinforces water-pumping and irrigation systems. Strengthening the capacity to adapt to climate-related hazards reduces losses caused by disasters.
+1 Enabling Creates conditions that further another goal. Providing electricity access in rural homes enables education, because it makes it possible to do homework at night with electric lighting.
0 Consistent No significant positive or negative interactions. Ensuring education for all does not interact significantly with infrastructure development or conservation of ocean ecosystems.
–1 Constraining Limits options on another goal. Improved water efficiency can constrain agricultural irrigation. Reducing climate change can constrain the options for energy access.
–2 Counteracting Clashes with another goal. Boosting consumption for growth can counteract waste reduction and climate mitigation.
–3 Cancelling Makes it impossible to reach another goal. Fully ensuring public transparency and democratic accountability cannot be combined with national-security goals. Full protection of natural reserves excludes public access for recreation.

Download this table as a PDF

Seven interaction types

We rate seven possible types of interactions, from the most positive (scoring +3) to the most negative (−3). These can be applied at any level — among goals and targets, to individual policies or to actions (see ‘Worked example’).

Worked example

The wins and losses en route to zero hunger

Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

A hydropowered irrigation pump in use at the Kabwadu Women’s Banana Farm in Zambia.

In sub-Saharan Africa, ending hunger (goal 2) interacts positively with several other goals — including poverty eradication (goal 1), health promotion (goal 3) and achieving quality education for all (goal 4). Addressing chronic malnourishment is ‘indivisible’ from addressing poverty — which gains the interaction a score of +3. Tackling malnourishment reinforces (+2) educational efforts because children can concentrate and perform better in school. Not addressing food security would counteract (−2) education, when the poorest children have to help provide food for the day.

Food production interacts with climate-change mitigation (goal 13) in several ways, because agriculture represents 20–35% of total anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions4. Climate mitigation constrains (−1) some types of food production, in particular those related to meat (methane release from livestock constitutes nearly 40% of the global agricultural sector’s total emissions)5. Yet food production is reinforced (+2) by a stable climate. Securing food from fisheries is also reinforced by protecting the climate, because that limits ocean warming and acidification.

Finally, in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, promoting food production can also constrain (−1) renewable-energy production (goal 7) and terrestrial ecosystem protection (goal 15) by competing for water and land. Conversely, limited land availability constrains (−1) agricultural production.

For practical policymaking, the process should start from a specific SDG — in line with a minister’s mandate — and map out, score and qualify interactions in relation to the other 16 goals and their targets.

Positive interactions lend themselves to building strategies across sectors. The three negative types will be subject to trade-offs, and the target of extra regulations and policies, such as bans. But negative-scoring interactions might also attract public investment in technologies and solutions that over time might push the needle up the scale.

There are four main considerations when applying the scale. First, is the interaction reversible or not? For example, failing on education (goal 4) could irreversibly damage social inclusion (goal 8). Loss of species owing to lack of action on climate change (goal 13) is another irreversible interaction. Conversely, converting land use from agriculture to bioenergy production (goal 7) might counteract food security (goal 2) and poverty reduction (goal 1) but could be reversed.

Second, does the interaction go in both directions? For instance, providing energy to people’s homes benefits education, but improving education does not directly provide energy.

A third consideration is the strength of the interaction: does an action on one goal have a large or small impact on another? Negative interactions can be tolerable if they are weak, such as the constraints that land resources might put on the development of transport infrastructure.

Fourth, how certain or uncertain is the interaction: is there evidence that it will definitely happen or is it only possible?

Context matters

Countries must interpret the SDGs according to their national circumstances and levels of development, so interaction scores will vary. Differences in geography, governance and technology make it dangerous to rely on generalized knowledge.

The regional resource base makes a big difference. For instance, bioenergy production is widely assumed to counteract food security through land competition. But in the Nordic region, bioenergy markets have reinforced the agricultural and forest production systems — offering new and more diversified market opportunities and increasing farmers’ and forest owners’ resilience2. Introducing technologies can render interactions more positive. For example, a transition to electric cars, fuelled by low-carbon power, could make personal-car-based mobility more consistent with climate-change goals.

Negative interactions may be the result of weakness in institutions, legal rights or governance procedures, which marginalize vulnerable groups. For example, poorly governed industrialization and infrastructure development (goal 9) in emerging economies or agricultural productivity efforts (goal 2) can counteract local livelihoods and increase inequalities (working against goal 10).

“There is no formal platform for sharing knowledge related to the goals.”

Timescale matters: intensifying food production to end hunger in places where resources are scarce may be feasible in the short term, but over time can deplete fisheries and forests. And spatial scale matters, too: for instance, industrial development may cause pollution and adversely affect the local environment and people’s health, but may also generate wealth that can support national health infrastructure. Politicians might mandate that health plans directly benefit the local community.

This conceptual framework is a starting point for building an evidence base to characterize the goal interactions in specific local, national or regional contexts. There is no formal platform for sharing such knowledge yet, but the International Council for Science (ICSU) is beginning to use the framework and populate it with empirical evidence3. The ICSU is bringing together research teams of leading experts from universities and institutes around the world to develop thematic case studies, starting with the SDGs for health, energy and food. Each team will define the expertise needed to characterize and quantify the domain’s interactions with all other SDGs, organize existing knowledge about these interactions, and identify key gaps and priorities.

Many knowledge gaps will surface. For example, the relationship between urban developments and human health and well-being is only beginning to be studied. Filling the gaps will be costly and will require contributions from research councils and funders such as the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework, as well as governments and universities. The UN should consider how best to track interactions in its SDG monitoring systems, which is now being designed. Tracking interactions will be more complicated than monitoring single sectors, but it could be done in detail in a few key places, such as for the nine SDG pilot countries, which include Uganda and Vietnam.

This interactions framework is intuitive, relatively easy to use and broadly replicable. It will facilitate the accumulation of knowledge and policy learning across countries. To further ensure that the research meets governments’ needs, the ICSU and other knowledge brokers such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN should convene a series of dialogues and workshops around interactions and how to apply them to policymaking. A first opportunity to put SDG interactions on the agenda is at next month’s high-level political forum, where 22 countries, including Germany and Colombia, will report back on their early action plans.

Where Hunger and Thirst Meet

In Under-nutrition on September 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

by Barbara Frost – Chief Executive of WaterAid

(reblogged from the Huffingtonpost – 31/08/2012)

The key theme at this year’s Stockholm World Water Week is water and food security: how do we meet the ever developing needs of a growing population with an increasing demand for resources?

At WaterAid, we believe the answer lies in providing water and sanitation for basic human needs, and that targeting the poorest communities will have the greatest impact on overcoming poverty and achieving global water and food security.

The figures shared at this annual event are concerning. In the past 100 years, global population has increased 3.6 times, while the amount of water withdrawn has increased 6.8 times. This reflects a shift in diet as we consume more water-intensive food, highlighting that it’s not just about population; it’s about trends.

Meanwhile, today, more than 900 million people suffer from hunger while 783 million people have no access to a clean, safe water source.

WaterAid/GMB Akash/PanosBut there is a positive message here; we have made a lot of progress – over 2billion people have accessed drinking water in the last two decades – showing that we should be capable of making the necessary changes to manage future growth more equitably.

The global population is set to reach nine billion by 2050 and demand for food willincrease by 70%, placing yet more pressures on water supplies. So the challenge is how to meet those demands.

As explained in our new Water security framework, launched at the global water event, clean water, improved toilets, and hygiene have a considerable impact on livelihoods, the environment and agriculture. Consequently, there is little hope of achieving food security and overall wellbeing without ensuring water security at a local level.

Dirty water and poor sanitation have serious implications on health – according to the UN half the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. This affects people’s ability to farm and work, with a knock-on effect on both the availability of food and the ability to buy it. Similarly, relieving women and girls of the burden of water collection allows time for them to have an education and earn a living, leading to greater economic freedom and prosperity.

Improved water sources close to the home can be used to irrigate household kitchen gardens, providing additional nutrition in times of food shortages, while the bi-products of ecological sanitation can greatly enhance soil fertility and crop yields.

By improving access to clean, safe water and adequate toilets at a community level, the wider impacts will in turn spread to water and food security on a national and international level.

However, the majority of the money dedicated to improving access to water and sanitation in the developing world is currently spent in middle-income countries, meaning some of the poorest communities are being overlooked.

In fact, water and sanitation aid provided to sub-Saharan Africa amounts to less than the price of a cup of coffee per person – just $2.39 a year, according to another of our new reports: Addressing the shortfall. As a result, many of these least developed countries in the region become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Through thorough analysis of donor aid, our report shows that water and sanitation aid is not well targeted. Between 2008 and 2010, the 27 countries accounting for 90% of diarrhoeal deaths (primarily caused by dirty water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene), received only 39% of water and sanitation aid. The 28 countries accounting for 90% of the world’s population without basic sanitation received just less than half of the aid.

The analysis is clear; developing countries and their development partners need to significantly increase their investments and target those investments better if the world’s poorest people are to gain access to safe water to drink and adequate sanitation.

Furthermore, as covered through the many discussions and sessions in Stockholm, strong leadership, good governance, increased capacity, and effective monitoring are vital if we are to achieve sustainable change and turn promises into action.

With diarrhoea claiming the lives of more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, all governments need to take urgent action to ensure sufficient funding gets to the one person in every ten lacking safe water in this world and the two in five without access to adequate sanitation.

There is enough food and water to feed the world’s population. Now we must work together to ensure everyone has access to it as we strive for water and sanitation for all.

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The evolution of human adiposity and obesity: where did it all go wrong?

In Over-nutrition on August 22, 2012 at 7:57 pm

by Jonathan C. K. Wells

Dis. Model. Mech.September 2012, vol. 5; no. 5; pages: 595-607

(download the entire paper)


Because obesity is associated with diverse chronic diseases, little attention has been directed to the multiple beneficial functions of adipose tissue.

Adipose tissue not only provides energy for growth, reproduction and immune function, but also secretes and receives diverse signaling molecules that coordinate energy allocation between these functions in response to ecological conditions. Importantly, many relevant ecological cues act on growth and physique, with adiposity responding as a counterbalancing risk management strategy.

The large number of individual alleles associated with adipose tissue illustrates its integration with diverse metabolic pathways. However, phenotypic variation in age, sex, ethnicity and social status is further associated with different strategies for storing and using energy. Adiposity therefore represents a key means of phenotypic flexibility within and across generations, enabling a coherent life-history strategy in the face of ecological stochasticity.

The sensitivity of numerous metabolic pathways to ecological cues makes our species vulnerable to manipulative globalized economic forces. The aim of this article is to understand how human adipose tissue biology interacts with modern environmental pressures to generate excess weight gain and obesity.

The disease component of obesity might lie not in adipose tissue itself, but in its perturbation by our modern industrialized niche.

Efforts to combat obesity could be more effective if they prioritized ‘external’ environmental change rather than attempting to manipulate ‘internal’ biology through pharmaceutical or behavioral means.

Find other posts related to obesity on this blog.


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Book – “Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity Directions and solutions for policy, research and action”

In Under-nutrition on August 8, 2012 at 9:55 am

from the FAO web site in collaboration with Bioversity International an interesting book was recently launched.

(download the entire pubblication)

“This book presents the current state of thought on the common path of sustainable diets and biodiversity and addresses the linkages among agriculture, health, the environment and food industries.

“The alarming pace of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and their negative impact on poverty and health makes a compelling case for re-examining food systems and diets. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop and promote strategies for sustainable diets, emphasizing the positive role of food biodiversity in human nutrition and poverty alleviation.

“Sustainable Diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.

“The contents of this book represent the presentations given at the International Scientific Symposium on Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets, organized by FAO and Bioversity International and held at FAO, Rome, from 3 to 5 November 2010.”

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Malnutrition, Child Health, and Water Quality: Is There a Role for Private Sector Participation in South Asia?

In Under-nutrition on May 25, 2012 at 8:52 am

by Katrina Kosec

CESifo Economic Studies (2012) 58 (2): 450-470.


This article discusses the potential of private sector participation (PSP) to improve the urban water supply in South Asia. I first provide background on the literature linking a safe and adequate water supply with malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality. To better understand the selection mechanism underlying the decision to undergo PSP, I then analyze factors associated with the award of private water contracts worldwide. I next present empirical evidence that PSP in water is associated with a lower incidence of diarrheal disease and higher rates of access to piped water among young children in urban Africa. Finally, I conclude by reviewing the South Asian context and its limited experiences with PSP in water, raising questions for future research.

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