Food, nutrition, and the right to health

Estefania Palomino | November 14, 2023

Food security and nutrition are key determinants of health, necessary as an innate human right and, in particular, for global progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals . Last month, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng met to discuss this imperative and a newly released report with the Aspen Global Innovators Group and its partners.

Food insecurity is a global issue affecting over 2.4 billion people, with 800 million experiencing hunger. In addition, unhealthy products, which are primarily marketed by large food companies to underserved communities, also have led  to a rise in illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. The burden of malnutrition is disproportionately borne by the most underserved in society, reflecting deep-rooted discrimination. 

The new report addresses solutions to this issue. Titled “Food, nutrition, and the right to health, it was authored by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng. They raise awareness around  the role of  corporations from wealthier countries, which exploit resources from low- and middle-income countries for food production. These practices lead to the displacement of  local populations and disrupting traditional food systems, which is a form of neocolonialism and extractive capitalism.

Dr. Mofokeng is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. During the event release, she recognized several global initiatives focused on food and nutrition, such as the United Nations’ Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016–2025) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Key takeaways from the report include: 

  • Emphasis on  the obligations placed on UN member States to adequately recognize the right to health, through domestic legislation, and ensure equal access for everyone to health determinants like nutritious and safe food. 
  • The requirement that states directly fulfill health and food rights when individuals or communities are unable to do so due to circumstances beyond their control.
  • Addressing these inequities requires a rights-based approach centered on marginalized communities.
  • The work requires examining the power asymmetries influencing food and nutrition outcomes and using this understanding to inform state obligations related to health rights.

The Aspen Institute’s Global Innovators Group, the Global Center for Legal Innovation on Food Environments at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Vital Strategies, and Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted the report launch. The partners are committed to continuing advocating for better government and corporate practices to ensure the right to health through food and nutrition.