10/25/2011 09:17 am ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011

Healthy Food for a Healthy Planet

At some point in the very near future, the 7 billionth human being on our planet will be born.

That baby will enter a world where a billion people are starving or undernourished, another billion are suffering eating disorders, and where our food production system not only perpetuates this cycle of poor nutrition, but contributes to another growing crisis: climate change.

In addition to addressing these issues, as our population continues to grow, we will need to increase our production of food by more than 70 percent just to keep up.

As the head of a global company that has been in the food production business for four generations, I have learned that healthy eating and a healthy planet are not at odds with each other, but are instead intertwined. There is no single solution to the global problems of undernourishment, unbalanced nutritional styles and environmental degradation, but there is one way to approach the issue as a whole: we must realign the way we eat to minimize our impact on the planet.

The experts at the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) have looked at this issue for the last few years, and they have uncovered a simple truth. The healthy foods recommended to be eaten more frequently by nutrition experts are also those with a smaller impact on our environment. Conversely, the production and consumption of foods that nutrition experts recommend to consume in moderation produce a more significant ecological footprint, contributing significantly to climate change.

Globally, the nutrition crisis manifests itself in many ways, impacting individuals at both ends of the spectrum. On one end, families face too many barriers to putting food on their tables. Even in highly developed nations like the United States, the nutrition squeeze is felt. Just last year, almost 50 million Americans did not have access to the basic, nutritional food they need.

On the other hand, the obesity epidemic continues to affect families everywhere. The World Health Organization reports that more than one billion adults around the world are overweight.

Moreover, the crisis of childhood obesity is especially troubling, because a child's first three years are crucial to developing lifelong healthy habits. The result is well-documented: a higher incidence of conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The impact of these diseases on the U.S. economy alone exceeds $700 billion each year. We're talking of more than $345 billion in Europe, and $55 billion in Italy.

Compounding the problem are our current food production models, which have become some of the largest contributors to climate change. Agriculture accounts for approximately 33 percent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And in order to satisfy the world's expanding needs for nutritious food, agricultural production will need to increase by 70 to 100 percent -- an alarming number that will have a devastating effect on our environment.

Simply put, our food production system is not sustainable.

However, the findings of the experts at the BCFN are encouraging since they demonstrate without question that the consumption of healthier foods is less harmful to our pocketbooks and our planet. The model of the Double -- nutritional and environmental -- Pyramid shows a very simple message and a great opportunity for people: the planet's resources and human health can be safeguarded just by choosing a tasty, healthy and environmentally-conscious nutritional model.

The fact is, if we cannot shift our food production industry to a more sustainable model, our food production will simply not be able to keep up with the nutritional demands of our growing population.

By taking steps like adopting simple indicators to measure the environmental impact of our food production, encouraging economic policies which incentivize a sustainable model of production and by encouraging eco-sustainable lifestyles and diets, we can begin to create a healthier future for our children.

Sadly, nearly 1 in 7 people alive today cannot provide the healthy food their families need. It is the imperative of governments and businesses everywhere to act quickly to address the need for sustainable nutrition. We believe this issue must become a public health priority, and we will continue working to find ways to foster a healthier population and a healthier planet.