Thirty percent of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children younger than age of 5, despite the fact that they make up only 9% of the global population, according to a report from the World Health Organization released today. 

The report,. “Estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases” discusses the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals – and notes the fact that each year as many as 600 million, or 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 5.

“Knowing which foodborne pathogens are causing the biggest problems in which parts of the world can generate targeted action by the public, governments, and the food industry,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO said in a press release about the report.

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While the burden of foodborne diseases is a public health concern globally, the WHO African and South-East Asia Regions have the highest incidence and highest death rates, including among children under the age of 5 years.

Diarrheal diseases are responsible for more than half of the global burden of foodborne diseases, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year. Children are at particular risk of foodborne diarrheal diseases, with 220 million falling ill and 96,000 dying every year. Diarrhea is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, non-typhoidal Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli.

Other major contributors to the global burden of foodborne diseases are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium, and aflatoxin (produced by mould on grain that is stored inappropriately).

Food safety is a shared responsibility, according to the report. The report’s findings underscore the global threat posed by foodborne diseases and reinforce the need for governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe and prevent foodborne diseases. There remains a significant need for education and training on the prevention of foodborne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public.


1. WHO. Estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases. 2015. Accessed Dec. 3, 2015.