According to the World Health Organization, the number of overweight and obese people has tripled since 1975. Current estimates are that no fewer than 1.9 billion adults are overweight, of which 659 million suffer from obesity. This equates, respectively, to 39% and 13% of all adults worldwide. Annually 11 million deaths are linked to diet-related risks, which is roughly 20% of deaths worldwide. Poor diets are therefore responsible for more deaths than smoking, according to the UN’s Global Burden of Disease Study.
The economic cost of unhealthy eating habits is also high. In 2014, McKinsey estimated the global economic impact of obesity to be USD 2 billion – or 2.8% of global GDP. This corresponds, more or less, to the impact of smoking, wars or other firearm-related violence. Obesity increases healthcare spending and therefore leads to loss of productivity, which damages economies.
As a result of the growing awareness, consumers are increasingly spending money on healthier and more nutritional food. Governments in turn are stimulating the food industry by pushing them in a healthier direction – sometimes through regulations, sometimes by providing subsidies.
Alongside healthy eating, sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor for consumers in their food purchases. During a discussion with a global food giant, the management pointed out that 20% of consumers are willing to pay more for products with a sustainable image. And for no less than 60% of consumers, sustainability is a consideration in their purchase decisions.
And, indeed, the environmental impact should not be underestimated, as is evident from the graph below: around 26% of all greenhouse gases can be attributed to our food system. Agriculture is responsible for 78% of ocean and freshwater pollution. And half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture. The conversion of natural ecosystems and habits into agricultural land is the leading cause of loss of biodiversity and species extinction. In short, global food production is damaging the stability of the climate and the resilience of ecosystems.
The consumer shift towards healthier and more sustainably produced food offers investors attractive investment opportunities. Companies that sell sustainably produced food are well positioned to benefit from this development. Think, for example, of plant-based food, seafood from sustainable aquaculture or concepts to reduce food waste such as meal kits. But also of providers of attractive digital business models; for example in the area of restaurant software. Food products in these segments are becoming increasingly relevant for consumers and have excellent growth opportunities.
I am convinced that changing our eating habits could be our most powerful tool in optimizing human health and restoring the stability of the natural world on this planet. Transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste will create a win-win-win situation for our health, our ecological sustainability and our economy.
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