THE US: Obesity and food waste in the land of plenty
The 2016 Food Sustainability Index ranks the US 19th out of 25 countries for prevalence of overweight in children, second-last for prevalence of over-nourishment, second-last for physical activity levels, and last for prevalence of unhealthy diets. On food waste, the US scores third-last, with about one-third (30–40%) of food produced in the country going to waste — more than 20 pounds per person per month.
The index, developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, also shows that the US policy response has been moving in the right direction to remedy the problems. The country is in joint first position for the quality of its response to unhealthy diets. Some states, such as Idaho, promote the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets; others, such as Wisconsin or Minnesota, support breastfeeding or are creating programmes to encourage physical activity at work, which can both impact weight.
But policy developments at federal, state and local level show signs of change, and some cities stand out for their actions. San Francisco has taken active steps to stem food waste through mandatory composting and recycling, consumer education and redistributive food banks.
“Although the US has one of the highest levels of food waste per capita, much is being done to tackle this issue, especially grassroots campaigns emerging thanks to the Good Samaritan Law which makes it easier for retailers to donate food to charities. Despite a number of recent government initiatives such as Let’s Move and Choose My Plate, the US still has one of the highest obesity rates among the 25 countries in the index” says Lucy Hurst, the study director.