Unhealthy diets cause 11 million deaths every year and 420,000 more people die from consuming unsafe foods, according to the UN.
Bad diets are also related to six of the top 10 risk factors for the global burden of disease, but around 3 billion people worldwide cannot afford to buy healthy food.
The picture gets worse, as the UN health agency said the unsustainable practices which define food systems today are also driving deforestation, biodiversity loss, depletion of the oceans, antimicrobial resistance, and the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
For the World Health Organization (WHO), "healthy diets from sustainable food systems" goes beyond having affordable access to foods that promote health and prevent disease.
It also means having food that is produced and distributed in ways that ensure decent work and help sustain the planet, soil, water, and biodiversity.
The WHO pointed to the wider impacts this would have on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as ending hunger and malnutrition, promoting healthy lives and well-being, improving maternal and child health, encouraging responsible consumption and production, and advancing urgent action to combat climate change.
Ensuring everyone has access to a healthy diet is among the goals of a UN-backed initiative launched Friday in line with efforts to transform food systems globally.
The Coalition of Action for Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems for all (HDSFS) brought together governments, UN agencies, civil society organisations, academic institutions, and social movements. It is one of the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit held in September 2021, as part of the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030.
The Summit called for progress towards achieving the SDGs by examining how food systems are linked to global challenges such as malnutrition, climate change, and poverty.
The HDSFS will work as a "coalition of the willing," serving as a platform for coordinated action on healthy diets from sustainable food systems through which countries can share experiences, champion policy actions, and gain support, information and inspiration.
As urgent action is needed in policies, practices, availability of data, and resource allocation, the Coalition's work will be centred around three main areas – mobilising stakeholders to align action across food systems; facilitating peer-to-peer learning between countries, and managing special projects on integrating nutrition, health and sustainability through food.
So far, 16 nations and the European Commission are "frontrunner countries" in the HDSFS.
The Coalition's "core group members" include the WHO and four other UN agencies – the Food and Agricultural Organization, UN Environment Programme, UN Children's Fund, and World Food Programme.
Other members from civil society and academia include the World Wildlife Fund, humanitarian organisation CARE, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, and Centre for Food Policy at the City, University of London.