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Planning for Food Systems, Equity and the City

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6pm GMT+1

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Planning for Food Systems, Equity and the City: Experiences from the Americas

Global levels of food insecurity have soared in recent years, with more than 333 million people facing acute levels of food insecurity in 2023; almost 200 million more than compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. Considering the current levels of food insecurity and hunger, the World Food Programme has classified the situation as a global food crisis. Meanwhile, we are witnessing a rising epidemic of overweight and obesity: according to the World Health Organization, “Worldwide adult obesity has more than doubled since 1990, and adolescent obesity has quadrupled,” with 1 in 8 people in the world living with obesity in 2022.

These phenomena, and who they affect, are often the result of social injustices and structural inequalities. While food policy has commonly focused on promoting “healthy” individual behaviour and choices, research has shown that health problems relating to a poor diet are affected by the social determinants of health, i.e. social, political and economic systems and mechanisms that shape population health and health inequities. For example, research from Latin America has shown that rates of overweight and obesity in Latin American cities intersect with gender, income, educational and geographical inequalities. Similarly, levels of both food insecurity and obesity in the US vary widely according to race and ethnicity, educational level and location.

These inequities are particularly evident, for example, in the phenomena of "food apartheid" or "supermarket redlining", i.e. urban areas where “residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance.” These areas are commonly located in low-income, racialised communities, leaving those already marginalised and oppressed communities with restricted options for maintaining healthy diets.

Faced with this reality, it is clear that a systemic, transdisciplinary and justice-oriented approach to food policy is needed to challenge the interlinked crises of food insecurity, obesity and health inequity. In order to explore these complex issues, how they manifest and how they are being tackled in the Americas, the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center is delighted to invite three international experts to present in the upcoming Policy Dialogues, “Planning for Food Systems, Equity, and the City: Experiences from the Americas”: