One of six global trends in health equity

Supporting Societies to Value Nutrients, Not Just Calories

Accelerating climate change, price inflation, and global shocks are undermining nutrition security, worsening nutrition-related health outcomes, as well as impacting livelihoods and local environments.

Global Trend

What is changing?

  • Eight of the last 10 harvest seasons have faced extreme episodic events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and severe droughts.

  • During price shocks, the cost of nutrient-dense foods increases more than nutrition-poor food options.

  • More than three billion people in the world were unable to afford healthy food in 2020.

  • Nutrient-poor diets increase the risk for non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

How are specific groups impacted?

  • Consumers with low incomes are less likely to feel they can afford healthy foods, often being forced to turn to cheaper, less nutritious options.

  • Food insecurity is projected to affect nearly twice as many women and girls than men and boys by 2050 (236 million compared to 131 million).

How is this trend reflected in the U.S.?

US Context, Nutrition Desktop


People of color are more likely to live in food deserts, reducing access to nutritious food options. Only 8% of Black people live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31% of White people.

Quick Facts

  • While food security is tracked in the U.S., nutrition security is not regularly measured.
  • The percent of the population that cannot afford healthy food is five times larger in the U.S. than in Germany, France, or Denmark.
  • Poor nutrition contributes to obesity. Nearly 74% of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, which costs the U.S. healthcare system nearly $173 billion annually.
  • The U.S. food system often optimizes for highly-processed food. Routine consumption of highly-processed food has been associated with increased risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. Processed food components (e.g., soy, wheat) have twice as many federal subsidies as fruits and vegetables.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the main governmental program for nutrition assistance to families with low income in the U.S. While SNAP contains an incentive program for buying nutritious foods, it does not restrict the purchase of unhealthy foods and beverages. Over 20% of SNAP purchases are spent on sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, and candy.

Solutions From Around the World

  • Map
  • Alphabetical Listing

Crosscutting Themes

Multisolving for Climate Change

Equitably Leveraging AI

Multisolving for Climage Change icon.


Many populations around the world, including in the U.S., are already dependent on monocrops for their food supply. Monocrop systems are less resilient to climate change and often do not provide consumers necessary dietary diversity. How might agricultural systems be transformed to foster a diverse and resilient range of nutrients for consumers?

The production of animal products is known to have comparatively higher emissions than many other food sources. Innovators have created plant-based products that replicatethese food sources (i.e., Beyond Meat). However, these meat alternatives primarily cater to consumers with higher incomes. How might affordable, sustainable meat substitutes be made more accessible to communities with low incomes?

Equitably Leveraging AI icon.


AI-backed personalized nutrition tools can help individuals understand how different foods affect their health. DayTwo uses AI and individually tailored data to predict blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes based on different foods they might eat. How might personalized AI nutrition tools address other diseases?

AI has the ability to bring together data and information from many different sources. How might AI be leveraged by policymakers to easily compare and evaluate global food policies and their impacts?

Connections to Housing


Affordable housing often coincides with areas that are food deserts, where individuals’ abilities to access nutritious food options are negatively impacted by limited availability of grocery stores. For large grocery chains, there are risks associated with locating in neighborhoods with low incomes, given the lower purchasing power of the local populations. This perpetuates the lack of grocery options in those neighborhoods.

Related Content


Six Global Trends in Health Equity

Explore the full analysis of six health equity trends emerging across the globe to learn how communities and decisionmakers are responding to them and their implications for the U.S.