5 Dec 2015

Young children at most risk from food contamination

1:52 pm on 5 December 2015

Almost one third of all deaths from food diseases are in children under the age of five years, despite the fact that they make up only nine percent of the global population.

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A toxin produced by mould that grows on grain that has been stored inappropriately is responsible for most foodborne disease deaths in this part of the world Photo: 123rf.com

Australian and New Zealand researchers have led the Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases report, which examined the impact of contaminated food on health and wellbeing.

The report - which estimates the effect of food diseases caused by 31 agents-bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals - found that each year 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.

World Health Organisation director-general Dr Margaret Chan said African and South-East Asia Regions have the highest incidence and highest death rates.

New Zealand is a part of the Western Pacific Region, where 125 million become ill from contaminated food every year, causing more than 50,000 deaths.

As in other regions, the children under five years of age are the most at risk, with 40 million falling ill and 7,000 dying every year.

Aflatoxin is estimated to be the leading cause of foodborne disease deaths in the Western Pacific Region. It is a toxin produced by mould that grows on grain that has been stored inappropriately, and can cause liver cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

More than 10,000 people in the Western Pacific are estimated to develop liver cancer due to aflatoxin every year, with the disease proving fatal in 9 out of 10 people.

An estimated 70 percent of people who become ill from aflatoxin worldwide live in the WHO Western Pacific Region.