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Tackling inequities in food, nutrition and health outcomes requires a rights-based approach: UN expert

26 October 2023

NEW YORK (26 October 2023) – Tackling inequities in food, nutrition and related clinical and health outcomes, requires a rights-based approach to food and nutrition, grounded in substantive equality and centred on historically marginalised individuals and communities, a UN expert said today.

“The intersection of the right to health and right to food is central to achieving substantive equality and realising sustainable development, human rights, lasting peace and security,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

In her report to the General Assembly, Mofokeng analysed access to food and nutrition and related clinical and health outcomes and how they reflect power asymmetries and policy and regulatory frameworks.

She also noted that inequities reflect historic and persistent patterns of discrimination and disempowerment, including on the basis of race, ethnicity, class, sex and gender. She stressed that Indigenous Peoples, women, children and infants face significantly higher risks of malnutrition and related health outcomes.

“Ultra-processed products, with marketing strategies that disproportionately target children, racial and ethnic minorities, and people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, have replicated colonial power structures and dynamics, with traditional diets and food cultures being replaced by diets largely shaped by corporations headquartered in historically powerful and wealthy countries,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur called on all concerned to understand the impact of non-communicable diseases. “Gender roles and social marginalisation can affect the risk of such diseases, the feasibility of behaviour change strategies and the success of interventions,” she said.

She recalled that within the right to health framework, it was important to establish mandatory front-of-package nutrition labelling, good fiscal and food policies consistent with the obligation of States to protect the right to health and health-related rights.

“The expropriation, occupation and destruction of land eliminates the ability of Indigenous Peoples and other local communities to produce their own food for a healthy diet and turns food into a commodity controlled by those in power, thus violating their right to adequate food and health,” the Special Rapporteur said.

She stressed that States’ obligation to protect requires them to prevent third parties, including corporations, from interfering with the enjoyment of human rights.

“The report is a compilation of good practices from a range of different actors. The recommendations should set us on a path towards a life of dignity for all,” Mofokeng said.

“Food is more than nutrition. Besides being one of the most common sources of pleasure, food is a social glue,” she said.

Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, (South Africa), has been the Special Rapporteur on the right to health since August 2020. She is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth friendly services and family planning. Tlaleng Mofokeng is a member of the boards of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, Accountability International. She is also the Chair of the Soul City Institute board. Her areas of focus have been on gender equality, policy, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, and HIV management. Tlaleng Mofokeng has been Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa and advisor to the Technical Committee for the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy in South Africa.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Ms. Karin Hechenleitner Schacht (+41 22 917 84 58 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or Maya Derouaz ([email protected]).

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