Human Health

Writing Team: Kristie L. Ebi (USA), Rose R. Kingamkono (Tanza­nia), Karen Lock (UK), Yalem Mekonnen (Ethiopia)

Inter-linkages between health, nutrition, agriculture, and AKST affect the ability of individuals, communities, and na­tions to reach sustainability goals. These interlinkages take place within a context of other, multiple stressors that affect population health. Intake of food of insufficient quantity, quality, and variety can result in ill-health. Poor health in adults and children leads to reduced economic productivity. Malnutrition and recurrent infections in childhood impair physical growth and mental development, thus lowering economic productivity in adulthood [Global Chapters 1,3, 6; SSA]. Lowered immunity associated with undernutrition makes individuals more susceptible to a range of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and can make treatment and recovery more difficult [CWANA; ESAP; Global Chapters 2, 3, 5; LAC; SSA]. Improving health by controlling a range of in­fectious and chronic diseases can increase the effectiveness and productivity of food systems and AKST.
     Agriculture has generally not had an explicit goal of improving human health. Appropriate application of AKST can improve dietary quantity and quality and overall popu­lation health; Examples include appropriate crop diversifica­tion approaches; the use of fertilizers, such as zinc, selenium, and iodine, on soils low in these essential human nutrients; and development of agroecosystem farming approaches de­signed to improve human, animal, and soil health [Global Chapters 2, 3,5, 6, 8].
     Agriculture can inadvertently affect health through the emergence of infectious diseases (approximately 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic—transmitted between ani­mals and humans) [Global Chapters 3, 5, 6, 9; NAE Chap­ters 1, 4; SSA Chapter 3]. Furthermore, agriculture is one of the three most dangerous occupations [with mining and construction] in terms of deaths, accidents, exposures, and occupationally related ill-health [Global Chapter 3]. Con­sumers are increasingly worried about increased risk of ill-health resulting from exposure to pesticides and other agrichemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones, additives introduced during food-processing, and foodborne patho­gens [CWANA Chapter 5; ESAP Chapters 2, 3, 5; Global Chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, 8; LAC Chapter 1; NAE Chapter 2; SSA Chapters 2, 3].


Current Status and Trends

Interrelationship   between  poor  health   and  agriculture. Vulnerable populations, particularly in rural communities, are typically exposed to multiple and interacting health risks associated with agriculture, including poor nutrition, food safety, and occupational and environmental health risks. This often results in a significant cumulative burden of ill health.
     Poor health in turn impacts on multiple agricultural functions and outputs. High prevalence rates of malnutri­tion and infectious and chronic diseases decrease produc­tivity through labor shortages, the need to change the type of crops grown, and the need to reduce the total area of land under cultivation. Poor health also impacts on farm­ers' ability to innovate and develop new farming systems. Ill health among families of producers can impact on pro­duction through absenteeism to provide health and other care, and the loss of household income or other outputs of agricultural work [CWANA; ESAP; Global Chapter 3; LAC; NAE; SSA]. This is particularly important for women who are often both the primary producers and primary carers [see Women in Agriculture theme]. Reduced life expectancy results in loss of local agricultural knowledge and reduced capacity, especially with respect to uptake of AKST. In de­veloping countries these issues are clearly illustrated by the impact of HIV-AIDS, malaria and malnutrition [CWANA; ESAP; Global Chapters 1,3; LAC; SSA].

Malnutrition. Worldwide, ill health due to poor nutrition results from under-nutrition over-nutrition, and imbalanced food intake leading to obesity [CWANA; ESAP; Global Chapters 1, 2, 3; LAC; NAE Chapter 2; SSA Chapter 2]. Individual risk factors for under-nutrition include insuffi­cient macro- or micronutrient dietary intake; depletion of body nutrients due to infections; and increased nutrient re­quirements during childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, and high physical activity such as manual labor. Malnutrition in many countries and regions continues to result from food insecurity due to multiple causes including loss of land, economic and political instability, war, and extreme climate events [Global Chapters 1,3; SSA Chapter 2].
     Over the past 40 years, there have been significant increases in global food production and supply that has surpassed population growth in many countries [Global Chapters 1, 2, 3]. During this period, global under-nutrition declined but still remains a major public health problem, estimated to contribute to over 15% of the total global bur­den of disease in 2000, with high variability in the extent of