Foodborne Illnesses Kill 125,000 Children Under Age Five Annually – WHO Study

foodborne illnessFood-borne diseases are a growing public health concern worldwide. Until now, it has not been clear exactly how much burden is produced by the foodborne diseases around the world.

Now, for the first time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has prepared a report on global foodborne disease estimates that shows close to one tenth of the worldwide population, or nearly 600 million people, suffer from food-borne diseases every year.

The findings of the WHO task force also show that children and the poor suffer the most, and that half a million (420,000 people, including 125,000 children) die from some type of food poisoning annually.

“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,” said Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, in a statement.

For their study, the WHO task force created the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group in 2007 and examined 31 different agents known to trigger illness when taken with food. The identified hazards included the bacteria, viruses, as well as other parasites and chemicals. The research team determined these hazards’ impact on people’s overall health and productivity through a measure called the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

“The global burden of foodborne disease by these 31 hazards was 33 million DALYs in 2010,” shows the WHO report. “40 percent of the foodborne disease burden was among children under five years of age.”

The group found that the foodborne hazards caused 600 million illnesses due to food contamination, with 420,000 foodborne illness related fatalities in 2010.

“The groups most adversely affected by the foodborne diseases are children and people in low-income regions of the world,” said Arie Havelaar from the University of Florida, who led the WHO group of 150 scientists that carried out the research for the report.

“Of those who lost years to ill-health, disability or early death, 40 percent were children under five years old, even though they constitute only nine percent of the world population. Foodborne illnesses affect people on the African continent the most, followed by sub-regions of Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean.”

The most frequent causes of foodborne illness were attributed to diarrhea disease agents, especially norovirus and Campylobacter. Another diarheal disease agent, non-typhoidal Salmonella enterica was a major trigger of death among the pathogens chosen for the WHO study.

The findings were reported in a WHO technical report.