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Accelerating SDG progress in the time of a pandemic: improving food systems to make healthy diets accessible to all

Unhealthy diets are a major contributory factor to the rising prevalence of malnutrition in all its forms as well as of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the way food is produced and consumed is taking a toll on the environment and natural resource base. There is growing evidence that the food and agriculture sector’s performance, in the region of Europe and Central Asia, needs to focus on improving access to affordable, safe and nutritious food for healthy diets, minimizing environmental costs and impacts, including the prevention of food loss and waste.

This has become even more crucial in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. Eating a healthy diet is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic. While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Healthy diets are also inextricably linked to food production systems and the many key elements required in the food system to build more sustainable, resilient and flexible food distribution models/ecosystems.

The objective of the peer-learning session is to share concrete policy actions and initiatives on improving food systems to make healthy diets accessible to all, focusing on SDG acceleration in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, looking at the following key aspects:

1. Promoting healthy diets is key for preserving human health and preventing diseases. Unhealthy diets lead to conditions such as obesity, micronutrient deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), that are leading causes of illness and death in ECA. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that people affected by pre-existing medical conditions (including NCDs) can be more vulnerable to be infected with an increasing mortality. New consumption patterns and different food choices have also emerged during the pandemic (e.g. increased takeaway food purchases and packaged/frozen foods).

2. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated inequalities in people’s access to safe and nutritious food. Keeping healthy diets affordable and ensuring access to nutritious and safe food to people in vulnerable situations is key during COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. During COVID-19 pandemic, due to loss of employment and remittances income, the reduced purchasing power led to lowering of quality and affordability of healthy diets for low-income families. School closures and cancellation of school meals also undermined access to food for children in vulnerable households.

3. Building more resilient food value chains is key to ensure availability of safe and nutritious food during COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. It is crucial to learn from the impacts on our food supply chains and markets, and the corresponding adjustments made to overcome the specific measures and challenges due to COVID-19. Short value chains (that link food producers to local markets and consumers) and availability of diverse locally produced high quality food have become more prominent during COVID-19 pandemic, as a potential component of more sustainable, resilient and flexible food distribution models/ecosystems in a given context.

The discussions at the round table will be closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG targets 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.4) and Action Tracks of the Food System Summit 2021 (Action Track 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

For more details visit the FAO website