Each year, April 7 marks World Health Day, an initiative created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to spread awareness about health-related issues. While last year’s theme was “building a fairer, healthier world for everyone,” the theme for World Health Day 2022 is “our planet, our health,” which aims to direct global attention toward the well-being of our planet and the humans living on it.
In recent years, there has been a tremendous shift in attitude toward healthy living. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focus to our health, with a specific emphasis on food to prevent various ailments.
The WHO has long worked to raise awareness about health and health-related issues, as well as how to address them. World Health Day was first proposed in 1948 during the inaugural World Health Assembly and it was first observed in 1950. For World Health Day 2022, however, the WHO is directing global attention toward the urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.
“In the midst of a pandemic, a polluted planet, increasing diseases like cancer, asthma, heart disease, on World Health Day 2022, WHO will focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being,” the WHO wrote on its website.
The WHO released a manifesto for a healthy recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a clear path forward. A tangible example of how to move forward involves the dietary choices people make daily, and even multiple times a day. Food is not only foundational to our health, but it is also a central focus of climate change. Not to mention, food is personal, cultural and it can sometimes be a socially charged issue.
The WHO estimates indicate around 811 million people around the world are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Paradoxically, the organization estimates that nearly two billion people meet the clinical criteria for overweight or obesity status. Lower income countries are overburdened with childhood malnutrition due to protein deficiencies whereas countries like the US see average individual protein consumption levels at double the recommended amount.
Shifting global food consumption to a primarily plant-based diet ranks as the third most effective solution for halting climate change due to the sheer amounts of feed, land, water and fossil fuel required for animal husbandry. Consuming less animal protein and processed foods are not only actions we can each take to improve our personal health, but they will ultimately improve the planetary health for future generations.
It is not just about the food people choose to eat, but also the packaging it comes in. While many people have switched to using reusable bags at the grocery store and refraining from using plastic produce bags, food manufacturers must do more to reduce the reliance on plastic for packaging. While sustainable packaging tends to be more costly, higher consumer demand can help drive down the cost.
The fight to regain planetary health is a significant and pressing issue. It is not useful to assert blame or deny evidence. Not unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, the call to action is for personal health and the health of neighbors and communities. For World Health Day 2022, it is time to make clear, conscious and decisive choices to shift behaviors, starting with what’s for dinner.