Whatever the cause(s) of food price inflation – economic crisis, supply chain chaos, war disruptions, corporate profits – the effects can be quite dire. Especially among the poor. And especially among the poorest of the poor.
“High and rising food prices generate an immediate threat to the security of a family’s food supply, thereby compromising the health of the population,” write academics Hyun-Hoon Lee, Suejin A. Lee, Jae-Young Lim and Cyn-Young Park. They analyzed a panel dataset covering ninety-five developing countries between 2001, when world food prices were at an all-time low, and 2011. This date range covers the spike in food prices in 2006 and the global food crisis of 2008 and its consequences. . Their lessons can be a window into the outcomes of current and future global food price spikes. As they note,
Rising food prices have a significant detrimental effect on diets and consequently lead to higher levels of infant and child mortality in developing countries, especially in the least developed countries (LDCs).
While this may seem obvious, especially for countries with precarious food security – poverty and dependence on food imports are a dangerous combination – the authors say their study was the first to attempt “to ‘assessing the precise effects of food price inflation on the health of children in Africa’. developing countries.”
Short-term effects are not the only problem. In addition to the immediate threat to food security, malnutrition and undernutrition can retard human development and “reduce the productive labor force for the long-term economy”.
Fifty percent of infant mortality is attributed to undernutrition. Maternal nutrition, on the other hand, is essential to a child’s development. Low birth weight, preterm birth, and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR, also known as fetal growth restriction, FGR), put all babies at higher than normal risk of various developmental problems. health before and after birth. These results include an increased risk of infectious diseases, another reminder that public health depends on the health of all members of the public. Micronutrient deficiency is another factor to consider. Vitamin A supplements can reduce infant mortality by thirty percent and zinc van supplements reduce mortality in one to three year old children by eighteen percent.
“Protecting the health status of infants and children in developing countries may become particularly important during periods of simultaneous economic downturn and high food price inflation,” writes Lee’s team.
A strong government commitment to public health is “particularly crucial to improving the health of children”. “Increased efforts by the international community to provide food and health assistance to these countries are greatly needed in these difficult times.”
Bertolt Brecht’s infamous remark that famines “don’t happen, they are organized by the grain trade” may be simplistic, but it points to the truth that there is plenty of food in the world. It is the distribution of this food that is telling.
The research team studied developing countries, but their findings must be considered in light of conditions in the poorest regions of so-called developed countries, especially those marked by large wealth disparities, massive inequalities and underdeveloped or non-existent social safety nets. With consumer prices, including food, hitting a four-decade high in the United States, and the ongoing war in Ukraine undermining the global wheat market, the price of food is not just a matter of Politics. It is also health, well-being and life itself.
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By: Hyun-Hoon Lee, Suejin A. Lee, Jae-Young Lim and Cyn-Young Park
The European Journal of Health Economics, vol. 17, no. 5 (June 2016), p. 535–551
By: W. Thwaites
The Journal of Agricultural History, Vol. 33, no. 2 (1985), p. 119–131
British Agricultural Historical Society