WHO issues first ever global estimates of foodborne disease

First ever estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases show almost 1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food.

Almost one third (30%) of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under the age of 5 years, despite the fact that they make up only 9% of the global population. This is among the findings of the World Health Organization's (WHO) "Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases" — the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and well-being.

The report, which estimates the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals – states that each year as many as 600 million, or almost 1 in 10 people in the world, fall ill after consuming contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 people die, including 125,000 children under the age of five.

“Until now, estimates of foodborne diseases were vague and imprecise. This concealed the true human costs of contaminated food. This report sets the record straight,” WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said. “Knowing which foodborne pathogens are causing the biggest problems in which parts of the world can generate targeted action by the public, governments and the food industry.”

While the burden of foodborne diseases is a public health concern globally, the WHO African and South-East Asia Regions have the highest incidence and highest death rates, including among children under the age of five years.

“These estimates are the result of a decade of work, including input from more than 100 experts from around the world. They are conservative, and more needs to be done to improve the availability of data on the burden of foodborne diseases. But based on what we know now, it is apparent that the global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, affecting people all over the world – particularly children under 5 years of age and people in low-income areas,” added Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of the WHO Department of Food Safety & Zoonoses.

Read more about the report in the Dec. 14 issue of Feedstuffs.

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