The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) at the University of Oxford have published a new study that makes the case for addressing sustainability and climate change when promoting good nutrition.
The study reports that only a handful of pioneering governments have issued guidelines promoting “win-win” diets that can help tackle two of the most urgent challenges of our time: securing good nutrition for all and addressing climate change.
The “Plates, Pyramids, Planet” report evaluates government-issued food guidelines from across the globe, looking in particular at whether they make links to environmental sustainability in addition to promoting good eating habits. At the time the study was conducted, only four countries’ recommendations – Brazil, Germany, Sweden and Qatar – drew connections to the threats posed by modern food production systems and the dietary patterns that drive them.
The report notes that poor dietary habits – rich in meat and foods that are high in sugar and fat and low in whole grains, fruits and vegetables – have been closely linked to noncommunicable diseases, a leading cause of premature death, not only in high-income countries, but also in many parts of the developing world. These diets are typically not only unhealthy, but also environmentally unsustainable.
More than 80 governments – just over a third of all countries in the world – already issue advice to their citizens in the form of food-based dietary guidelines: short, science-based, practical and culturally appropriate messages that guide people on healthy eating and lifestyles. But most existing guidelines still fail to consider the environmental impacts of dietary choices.
The study emphasizes that, to have a real effect on food consumption, dietary guidelines need to have clear links to food policies that are actually implemented, such as school and hospital meal standards, and advertising and industry regulations. This is a point that Marion Nestle, the Goddard Chair at New York University, has made for decades.