The foundation of our youth's success should start with keeping everyone sustainably fed.
Hunger is a multi-faceted issue that should have everyone involved. Our student-run chapters engage local communities in promoting sustainable practices, and fighting food insecurity.
This Month's LSN (Learn Something New!)Article:
The Nutrition Transition: How Our Diet Has Changed Over Time
Have you ever wondered why our bodies are structured differently than those of people from hundreds of years ago? The simple answer is that human genes have evolved over time as a result of our adaptations to environmental changes. For example, it became common for humans to drink milk as a result of the domestication of cattle, lactose tolerance became a trait that humans developed, which they would pass down to their offspring. This leads us to our main point of the article: our means of finding food is a particular adaptation that has drastically changed throughout history.
12,000 years ago, humans practiced hunting-gathering, often gathering food high in carbohydrates and fiber and low in fat. In other words, their diets were characterized by place. Due to their high activity level and relatively healthy diet, obesity was rare among them. Since then, humans have learned to practice agriculture, growing their own crops and raising their own livestock. During the early stages of this period, food availability was still scarce, preventing overconsumption from occurring. However, just over the course of these past three centuries, the pace of human’s dietary and activity change has accelerated to unprecedented and varying degrees in different parts of the world. As a result of this drastic change, our body composition and health status has changed as well.
What is the cause of this alteration? Well, according to the studies of Dr. Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor who teaches and researches nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nutrition transition can be divided into two historic processes: the demographic transition, a phenomenon that describes population over time, and the transition to urban-industrial lifestyles. These two processes can be described in five stages, with the first stage being hunting-gathering. Proceeding this stage is famine, in which civilizations face chronic hunger due to various reasons such as crop failure and/or population imbalance. During this period, nutritional stress can occur, causing impediment in bodily development. The third stage is the recovery of famine and the prevention of it. Many early civilizations made progress in reducing famine, but only beginning in the 1700s did the changes become global. In this stage, starchy foods become less important in the diet while fruits, vegetables, and animal protein are more consumed. Stage four involves Nutrition-Related Non Communicable Diseases (NR-NCD), which includes diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. The cause of these diseases is a diet high in total fat, cholesterol, sugar, and refined carbs and an increasingly sedentary life, a lifestyle found in most high-income societies and increasingly in parts of low-income societies. The last stage is behavioral change. In response to the changes in our diet, the effort to prevent or delay degenerative diseases and increase health has been implemented into some countries by consumers and government policy. If this new dietary pattern becomes widespread, successful aging can occur, preventing disabilities in the earlier stages of life.
We know that our current diet culture involves a lot of fast food and little to no exercise, but this diet is specific to the United States, making it also known as the “Western diet”. However, many countries, including those in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, are starting to adopt the Western diet, causing the rise of NR-NCD to become a global problem. Although the type of food being over consumed varies within each region, the cause of overconsumption is the same: industrialization. Nowadays, most foods are manufactured, meaning that there is plenty of supply and the prices are low. This allows people to buy them in bulk, and as a result, carelessly consume them. Not only has industrialization affected food production, it has affected people’s lifestyles as well. More and more jobs require less energy to be expended because of the reliance on technology, and appliances make household duties convenient as well. Lastly, leisure activities consist more of playing video games and watching TV than physical activities. Not only that, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, students are forced to sit at home to attend classes all day, getting even less physical movement compared to when they were in school and had to walk to each of their classes. Furthermore, many sporting events have been cancelled or postponed, so besides practicing or exercising on their own, high schoolers don’t have many opportunities provided for them to be active.
But if there is an overproduction of food, why does food insecurity still exist? This common yet complicated question will be discussed in our next article.
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Popkin, Barry M. “Nutrition Transition and Obesity in the Developing World.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Apr. 2001, academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/3/871S/4687031.
Popkin, Barry M. “What Is the Nutrition Transition?” Nutrition Transition Program, nutrans.web.unc.edu/whatis/.