Intended for healthcare professionals


Potential causes and health effects of rising global food prices

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 13 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2403

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Karen Lock, senior lecturer in public health1,
  2. David Stuckler, research fellow 12,
  3. Kate Charlesworth, research fellow1,
  4. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1
  1. 1ECOHOST, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  2. 2Department of Sociology, Oxford University and Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP
  1. Correspondence to: K Lock karen.lock{at}
  • Accepted 21 April 2009

High food prices affect not only our pockets but also our health. Karen Lock and colleagues examine the cause of recent increases and discuss what can be done to minimise harm

Large increases in food prices have occurred at many times and in many places throughout history. The recent increases differ in their global reach and degree of volatility. Between January 2006 and July 2008 global food prices rose by an average of 75%, causing an estimated 75 million additional people to become undernourished worldwide. We evaluate how several factors have contributed to rising food prices and analyse the potential consequences of these rises for food security and public health. As food prices are predicted to remain high for several years, we discuss policy responses that could help secure an affordable, healthy global food supply.

How much have food prices risen?

Global food prices began to rise in 2003, but the rate of increase accelerated greatly in 2006, with prices reaching record highs in mid-2008 (fig 1).1 2 The 14% increase in 2006 in the commodity food price index, an index of major commodity prices weighted by market share, was dwarfed by the 27% increase in 2007. Although prices fell in the second half of 2008, in January 2009 the food price index was still 26% above what it had been three years previously. However, beneath these aggregate figures, price trends in important global staples differ widely. Though the price increase for palm oil over five years was only 4%, wheat rose by 48%, bananas by 64%, and rice by 189%.

Fig 1 Trends in global food commodity prices, 2004-9 (data scaled to prices in February 2004).2 Commodity food price index is a composite of cereal, vegetable oils, meat, seafood, sugar, bananas, and orange price indices weighted by market share. Commodity fuel …

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