Human nutrition on a finite planet: securing sustainable and healthy diets for all
The objectives of research and policy in human nutrition have changed over time to address new public health concerns across the globe. The focus has moved from avoiding single nutrient deficiencies to preventing chronic metabolic diseases in the Western world, while undernutrition and malnutrition remain endemic in other geographical areas. The number of undernourished and food insecure people, as well as those that cannot afford a healthy diet, are still on the rise. This is also the case for the prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases. Both conditions have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, in turn representing risk factors for COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality. While the implementation of effective strategies to address human nutrition goals remains challenging, integrating ‘sustainability’ as an additional factor to the equation is an increasingly compelling need for addressing environmental and socioeconomic aspects. Unsustainable food production has a major global environmental impact. Moreover, current food processing, transport and consumption trends, coupled with projected population growth in the coming decades, further exacerbate both threats to our planet and challenge global food security. In this session, we will discuss how healthy diets that are socially acceptable, affordable and flexible regarding individual values and preferences can be defined within sustainability boundaries. Furthermore, we will consider how the transformation of food systems could foster a change in food consumption patterns and vice versa. We will also explore the challenges and opportunities to securing healthy, sustainable, accessible and affordable food for all.
The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy calls for a transition to fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food systems in the EU. It envisages that the European food sector will become the global standard for sustainability. The transition towards this goal requires the involvement of all sectors and players along the value chain and policies that can reshape the food system and promote healthy and sustainable diets.
We have a unique opportunity to rethink the amount and quality of food required to live long and healthy lives while respecting the planet’s environmental limits. Nutrition research and policy goals need to be adjusted, with greater focus on how food security and public health can be optimised, while respecting the planet’s available resources. They must also focus on how we can provide new strong scientific arguments to support long-lasting changes to dietary choices and habits. Developing robust scientific assessment methodologies to underpin such policy goals will require the integration of risks and benefits along the food chain as well as unprecedented global collaboration among risk assessors, policy makers and relevant stakeholders.
Background – Challenges and opportunities
The concept of Environmental Health, introduced in 1989 by the World Health Organization (WHO), describes the relationship between human and environmental health. Changes in the lifestyles of a population or in the economic system can lead to considerable changes in ecosystems, and these could impact human health in many ways. In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission published a report outlining the concept of ‘planetary health diets’ in which food was identified as the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. These principles are also embedded within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations (UN) Member States. In October 2020, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identified the links between biodiversity and pandemics and concluded that a transition to sustainable food systems is needed to prevent the emergence of infectious diseases.
In the last two decades, interest in assessing the environmental impact of food habits has significantly increased. An essential factor in reaching the central goal of the Paris climate change agreement, aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, is to rapidly change the global food system . The ambitions outlined by WHO (Environmental Health), UN (SDGs) and the EAT-Lancet Commission (Planetary Health Diet) require the development of new methodologies, tools and frameworks to improve the condition of the environment, contribute to climate and biodiversity targets and enhance our long-term capacity and resilience of the food system to ensure healthy (safe and nutritious) food for all .
Scope and objectives
The main objectives of the thematic session are to:
- Explore how to define and promote healthy and sustainable diets (e.g., that meet climate and biodiversity targets, are socially acceptable, affordable, and adaptable to individual values and preferences).
- Understand which incremental and transformational changes to current food systems are needed to ensure sustainable and healthy diets for all.
- Discuss scientific alternatives for how to incorporate sustainability targets into dietary recommendations and food based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) and explore opportunities for changes to consumer behaviour in Europe to foster the shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets.
- Discuss policy options to transform food systems and steer consumer behaviour to meet sustainability goals and better understand how academia, risk assessors, policy makers and the food industry could foster the implementation of such a transformation.
Opening and welcome
Sandra Caldeira, European Commission
Part I - One health-one environment concept
Relationship between diet and human health: meaning of healthy diets in 2022
Francesco Branca, World Health Organization (WHO)
The concept of environmental sustainability applied to food: production, distribution, consumption and waste
Johan Rockström, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Coming to grips with trade-offs in achieving human and planetary health in resource-constrained settings
Jessica Fanzo, Johns Hopkins University
Part II - Moving Europe forward
Tailoring food systems and dietary recommendations to meet public health and environmental sustainability goals: what does it take?
Marco Springmann, University of Oxford
Drivers of food choices and drivers for change
Klaus Grunert, Aarhus University
Policy options to transform food systems and food consumption patterns
Lucia Reisch, University of Cambridge