Food price crisis can lead to deteriorating nutrition

April 25, 2011 By Jessica Martin, Washington University in St. Louis

As fuel prices soar, food prices are beginning to creep up to crisis levels most recently seen in 2007.

“Coupled with the financial crisis, high can take a significant toll on nutrition, especially in developing countries,” says Lora Iannotti, PhD, a public health expert and professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The same consequences can be true for wealthier countries, as households opt for less expensive, poor quality foods. Hidden hunger is a problem across the globe.”

Iannotti and Miguel Robles, PhD, from the International Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) examined the effects of food price hikes on calorie consumption in seven Latin American countries.

“During a food price crisis, households moved away from ‘luxury’ food items such as meat, fish and dairy products to poorer quality food,” she says.

Using data from nationally representative household budget surveys, Iannotti and colleagues found that during a food price crisis:

· Calorie intake was reduced by an average eight percent from precrisis levels.

· Rural areas and urban areas were equally affected.

· Wealthiest households actually increased caloric intake, exceeding 10 percent of pre-crisis levels.

“We are particularly concerned for families with young children,” Iannotti says.

“When you have a reduction in calories and critical nutrients for kids under two, there are long term consequences such as stunted growth, cognitive deficits, lower educational attainment and reduced future productivity. ”

The next phase of her study will focus on how a food price crisis impacts micronutrient consumption, specifically vitamin B12, iron, zinc and folate.

Iannotti’s study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin.

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