As the global population grows, food sustainability and its effect on public health become even more important. At this time, approximately 800 million people around the world are undernourished, and 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese.

This month, the AMA Journal of Ethics is focused on the ethical issues surrounding food systems across the globe, and how clinicians can help address those challenges on a smaller scale.

“We need a more equitable, ethical, and sustainable global food system,” wrote Jessica Fanzo, PhD, senior nutrition and food systems officer in the Nutrition and Food Systems Division of the Food and Agriculture Division at the United Nations in Rome, Italy, in a recent article outlining the content in the special issue. “This special issue of the [journal] aims to help highlight the ethical issues of food systems in the health of populations and how health care and health practitioners can play important roles.”

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According to Dr Fanzo, it all starts with a lesson in nutritional science: Many physicians fall short when it comes to the field of nutritional science. To help equip patients with the proper knowledge to make thoughtful choices about their health, physicians should consider partnering with dieticians and nutrition experts.

Outside of practice, clinicians can make a difference through advocacy as well.

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“[P]hysicians can play an important role in promoting healthy diets to their patients with low income through advocacy,” wrote Dr Fanzo. Physicians can also take part in promoting a more sustainable food system through advocacy with food procurement initiatives.

There is a great deal of both opportunity and need around the world for physicians to get involved in any way they can, either inside or outside the office.


Fanzo J. The ethics of food in the health system architecture. AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(10):E913-E917.