28 Mar 2019


Parma, April 03 2019 – Food is a fundamental part of our well-being, but are we really sure that our diet guarantees a long and healthy life? The answer is no, according to data analyzed by the Barilla Foundation for World Health Day (April 7).

More than 650 million people over the age of 18, equal to 13% of the planet's population, are obese. Paradoxically, an estimated two obese or overweight people for every person who suffers from malnutrition. 

Obesity is one of the risk factors for the onset of some non-communicable diseases - such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, and diabetes. As the numbers show, food and health are connected and impact the costs we pay for medical care. 

Junk food, although it often has a low cost, can hide unexpected expenses in the long run, which then weigh on the entire global economic and health system. Obesity is estimated to cost the world economic system 2 trillion dollars (2.8% of world GDP). In Italy alone, the estimate costs for cardiovascular diseases amount to over 15 billion euros and for the treatment of cancer to just under seven billion euros.

It is not just the way we consume food that puts our lives at risk. In a context of profound climate change, the way we produce food also contributes to poor health of people and of the planet. The agricultural sector accounts for almost a third of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the consequences of climate change on agriculture and human health are one of the most significant problems we will face in the coming years, such as the increase in temperatures and atmospheric pollutants. According to recent estimates, air pollution in Italy causes the death of over 90,000 people a year, a record in the EU. In short, food and the way we feed ourselves can be the key to our well-being but also a threat to our health, and to that of our planet.

"In recent years we have witnessed a gradual departure from sustainable food models, such as the Mediterranean Diet, in favor of models rich in animal-based proteins, processed foods with high percentages of sugar, salt, fat or low in fiber,” worries Katarzyna Dembska, nutritionist and researcher at the Barilla Foundation. “These food solutions can expose us, in the long run, to very expensive diseases or health problems. Choosing sustainable diets, in addition to reducing the impact on the environment, can positively affect longevity. For example, a high adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is estimated to result in 4.5 years of extra life expectancy. In short, the care of our health really starts from our plate”  


Food production is the largest contributor to climate change (31%), exceeding the heating of buildings (23.6%) and transportation (18.5%). Indeed, climate change is emerging as one of the main risk factors for our lives. Italy, for example, appears to be the country with the highest mortality rate linked to the increase in temperatures, especially in the larger urban areas (Turin, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples). The increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, together with the aging of the population, will have a significant impact on health, as demonstrated by the summer of 2015, when there was a + 13% increase in deaths among the population over the age of 65 attributable to the increase in heat.

One of the answers to the problem of climate change can be found right on our plate. 

A nutritionally correct diet can be the best way to reduce our environmental impact. 

This combination between health and sustainability is demonstrated by the Double Environmental Food Pyramid, a model that combines the classic food pyramid (whose principles coincide with those of the Mediterranean diet) alongside a new (upside down) “environmental” pyramid in the which foods are classified according to their ecological footprint (Ecological Footprint), the impact that their production has on the environment. 

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) is a multi-disciplinary non profit research center which studies the causes and effects on food created by economic, science, society and environmental factors. It produces science-based content that can be used to inform people and help them make responsible choices on food, nutrition, health and sustainability. All BCFN work is monitored by the BCFN Advisory Board. For further information: www.barillacfn.com