Flickr/Alachua County

How sick are we getting from food diseases?

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

Almost one third of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children aged under five years old - despite them making up less than 10 per cent of the global population, according to massive global study involving New Zealand and Australian scientists. Campylobacter - a bacteria found in poultry, milk and water - was the most common killer. The findings are uncovered in a series of papers forming the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and wellbeing.

Journal/conference: PLOS

Organisation/s: University of Otago, The Australian National University

Media Release

From: PLOS From: World Health Organisation

FROM PLOS:

33 million healthy life years lost annually to disability or premature death caused by foodborne diseases – new WHO research collection

The global burden of foodborne diseases caused by contaminated food in 2010 has been estimated as 33 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Of these years lost to ill-health, disability or early death, 40% was to children under 5 years old. This is according to new estimates from a World Health Organisation (WHO) taskforce, which publishes its findings this week in a new PLOS Collection.

To measure the global and regional burden of foodborne disease, WHO established the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG), which now report their first estimates of the incidence, mortality, and disease burden due to 31 foodborne hazards in 2010. FERG found that the global burden of foodborne disease is comparable to HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. Diarrheal disease agents, especially non-typhoidal Salmonella enterica, were responsible for the majority of deaths. Other major causes of foodborne disease deaths were Salmonella Typhi, Taenia solium (pork tapeworm) and hepatitis A virus. For those cases where illness, rather than death, is documented, the most frequent causes were diarrheal disease agents, particularly norovirus and Campylobacter spp. Among chemical agents evaluated by FERG, aflatoxin was found to cause the greatest burden.

The PLOS Collection, which features papers from PLOS Medicine, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases and PLOS ONE, also documents global variation in the impact of foodborne disease, with Africa being hardest hit, followed by sub-regions of South-East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean. The authors state, “the burden of foodborne disease is borne particularly by children under five years old – although they represent only 9% of the global population – and people living in low-income regions of the world.”

“This report and the related tools should enable governments and other stakeholders to draw public attention to this often under-estimated problem and mobilize political will and resources to combat foodborne diseases” says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, World Health Organization.

The partnership between the WHO FERG committee and PLOS Collections brings light to the often overlooked issue of foodborne diseases and the toll they take on communities. It also provides an intriguing picture of the disparities in this burden, both in terms of geography and age, and should allow policy makers and governments to more effectively target these diseases to reduce their burden particularly in the young and vulnerable.

FROM WHO:

WHO’s first ever global estimates of foodborne diseases find children under five account for almost one third of deaths

  • First ever estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases show almost 1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food and 420 000 die as a result
  • Children under five years of age are at particularly high risk, with 125 000 children dying from foodborne diseases every year
  • WHO African and South-East Asia Regions have the highest burden of foodborne diseases


Almost one third (30%) of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under the age of five 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 wellbeing.

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 years.

“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,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “Knowing which foodborne pathogens are causing the biggest problems in which parts of the world can generate targeted action by the public, govenments, 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 five years of age and people in low-income areas,” says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses.

Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for more than half of the global burden of foodborne diseases, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year. Children are at particular risk of foodborne diarrhoeal diseases, with 220 million falling ill and 96 000 dying every year. Diarrhoea is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, non-typhoidalSalmonella and pathogenic E. coli.

Other major contributors to the global burden of foodborne diseases are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium (a tapeworm), and aflatoxin (produced by mould on grain that is stored inappropriately).


Certain diseases, such as those caused by non-typhoidal Salmonella, are a public health concern across all regions of the world, in high- and low-income countries alike. Other diseases, such as typhoid fever, foodborne cholera, and those caused by pathogenic E. coli, are much more common to low-income countries, while Campylobacter is an important pathogen in high-income countries.

The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.

Foodborne diseases can cause short-term symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (commonly referred to as food poisoning), but can also cause longer-term illnesses, such as cancer, kidney or liver failure, brain and neural disorders. These diseases may be more serious in children, pregnant women, and those who are older or have a weakened immune system. Children who survive some of the more serious foodborne diseases may suffer from delayed physical and mental development, impacting their quality of life permanently.

Food safety is a shared responsibility, says WHO. The report’s findings underscore the global threat posed by foodborne diseases and reinforce the need for governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe and prevent foodborne diseases. There remains a significant need for education and training on the prevention of foodborne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public. WHO is working closely with national governments to help set and implement food safety strategies and policies that will in turn have a positive impact on the safety of food in the global marketplace.

Attachments:

  • PLOS
    Foodbornediseaseburden_PR_PLOS.doc, 32.0 KB
  • World Health Organization
    Foodbornediseaseburden_PR_WHO.doc, 47.5 KB
  • PLOS
    Web page
    The URL will go live after the embargo ends.
  • World Health Organization
    Web page
    The URL will go live after the embargo ends.
  • World Health Organization
    Web page
    Interactive data tool/map

News for:

Australia
New Zealand
ACT

Media contact details for this story are only visible to registered journalists.