According to a new report released by the World Health Organization, nearly one third of all deaths from foodborne disease happen in children younger than age 5.
Researchers looked at foodborne diseases caused by factors such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals. Of the approximately 600 million people (or 1 in 10) who get sick from food each year, 420,000 people die. And of those deaths, 125,000 occur in kids younger than 5.
"Until now, estimates of foodborne diseases were vague and imprecise. This report sets the record straight," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
According to the report, diarrheal diseases—often caused by eating raw and undercooked meat as well as foods contaminated by norovirus, salmonella, and E. Coli—make up more than half of foodborne illnesses, and children are especially at risk from these diseases.
It was also reported that Africa and Southeast Asia have the highest incidence of foodborne illness and highest death rates, including among children younger than 5. "Based on what we know now, it is apparent that the global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, affecting people all over the world," said Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima of WHO.
The report stated that 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 diarrhea (commonly referred to as food poisoning), but can also cause longer-term illnesses, such as cancer, kidney or liver failure, and brain and neural disorders. These diseases may be more serious in children, and those who do survive may suffer from delayed physical and mental development, impacting their quality of life permanently, the report said.
The findings underscore the global threat posed by foodborne diseases and reinforce the need for governments, the food industry, and individuals to do more to prevent foodborne diseases. WHO said it is now working closely with national governments to help implement food safety strategies and policies that have a positive impact in the global marketplace.