The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a new report containing its first global estimates of the incidence and health burden of foodborne diseases. The report identifies a disproportionate mortality rate in children less than five years of age.
The report represents the outcome of a decade of work by an international team of 100 experts. It includes estimates of the burden of foodborne disease caused by 31 different agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals – though these are said to be conservative given the variability in the quality of the data available from different countries.
It is estimated that as many as 600 million people each year – almost 1 in 10 of the global population – fall ill after consuming contaminated food. Of these 420,000 die, with a disproportionate 125,000 deaths occurring in children below the age of five. The highest incidences and death rates are found in Africa and South-East Asia.
The main causes of foodborne illness vary between developed and developing regions. Pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter, pathogenic E. coli and noroviruses are most important in developed, high-income countries, while typhoid fever, foodborne cholera, parasitic infections and aflatoxins are major contributors in low-income developing nations.
“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,” commented Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
The full report can be downloaded from the WHO website here.