Sustainable Diets: A Critical Element For A Healthy Future

By Elle Alexander

The recently released textbook, Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity, is a unique text that addresses the social context and environmental issues related to food production and consumption. The text discusses the holistic perspective of the food system, including the intersection of food and health, the environment, and society. The text dives into diverse yet related issues including outcomes, drivers of the food system, food supply chain, and food in communities. A framework is provided that describes how the chapters are interrelated (Figure 1, below). Additionally, dual perspectives on specific topics are offered, such as the restriction of unhealthy food items in SNAP.

Book blog FoodSystems Jan15 Fig1
Click to enlarge.

Understanding the current food system challenge and opportunities to shift to a sustainable system to improve environmental and human health and promote equity is critical. In the US, 69% of adults are either overweight or obese. The annual cost of industrial farming in the US is estimated at $34.7 billion annually.

Solutions are needed to supply healthy diets with reduced environmental impact. In the chapter on Food System Economics, Vitality Institute Executive Director Derek Yach discusses private sector initiatives to promote healthy eating. Examples of national and international partnerships are highlighted, as well as individual company actions that have impacted the food supply. Incentives have been shown to shift food purchases to healthier items in the Vitality program that also reduce water and land use and greenhouse gases. Greater focus on markets are needed to further progress and encourage companies to produce healthier products.

Feeding the population is a critical challenge for our generation. Solutions are needed to provide the US and global populations with healthy diets that have minimal environmental impact. Derek Yach is currently participating on the Lancet-Rockefeller Foundation Commission on Planetary Health that was established to assess the potential implications for health of multiple changes in the Earth’s “essential life support systems”, and should be publishing its findings later this spring.

What solutions you most interested in to improve healthy eating and reduce environmental impact? Let us know in the comments below.

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