Sustainable diets for human health

Theme leader: Professor Michelle Holdsworth


This theme addresses the axis between environmentally sustainable food production and consumption, dietary quality and nutritional health. Dietary behaviour change to reduce overconsumption, particularly of animal foods and resource-intensive processed foods, is critical to ensure food security and lessen environmental impact. Research examines what policy options can be introduced to nudge citizens into embracing more environmentally sustainable dietary habits and the impact such dietary change has on nutrient intake and biomarkers of health. It particularly seeks to understand how meat, dairy and highly processed food may be moderated in the face of both food insecurity and patterns of overconsumption, paying particular attention to the role of media messages.

The research has a methodological focus to develop instruments to assess food-related environmental beliefs, consumer acceptance of intensively produced food and a food index database based on sustainability. These instruments are used to examine how environmental attitudes interact with both health-based and sustainable dietary patterns. This understanding facilitates development of effective intervention strategies to effect dietary change.

Ecological public health nutrition places nutrition within its wider structural settings including the political, physical, socio-cultural and economic environment that influence individual behaviour and health. As a consequence, the research agenda includes the impact of what is eaten on the natural environment as well as the impact of environmental and climate change on all components of food security, i.e. on what food is available, accessible, utilisable and stable. Additionally ways of incorporating environmental sustainability into food based dietary guidelines that particularly address the nutritional-environmental tensions of consuming fish from sustainable sources, and reducing meat and dairy intake are being addressed. This strand explores ways to enhance the incorporation of sustainability into food and nutrition policy that combines the ‘three pillars’ of social, economic and ecological sustainability.