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Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus

Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems

Alongside many positive impacts, our food systems have increasingly affected health through multiple, interconnected pathways, generating severe human and economic costs. Although it is generally understood that good food is a cornerstone of good health, the full picture is often lost from view, allowing the connections to be obscured and the root causes of poor health to be left unaddressed.

Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems, authored by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of these issues, identifying the channels through which food systems affect human health, and how prevailing power relations and imperatives in food systems help to shape our understanding of the impacts they generate. The report asks why evidence gaps persist, why negative impacts are systematically reproduced, and why certain problems are not politically prioritized.

An urgent case for reforming food and farming systems can be made on the grounds of protecting human health. The report emphasizes the need to explore the social, structural, and environmental determinants of health associated with food systems, and identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems:

  • Promoting food systems thinking;
  • Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good;
  • Bringing the alternatives to light;
  • Adopting the precautionary principle; and,
  • Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

We have enough evidence telling us that the current food system is not supporting health – we must take action to trigger a shift from a system that too often results in harm to a system based on health promotion.
– Ruth Richardson, Executive Director,
Global Alliance for the Future of Food


This report was commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food in support of its broader strategy to strengthen the fundamental role that food systems play in creating and sustaining health and well-being in all communities and populations.