The new Current Developments in Nutrition (CurrDevNutr) Special Collection, “Diet, Nutrition, and Sustainability: Promoting a Healthy Planet and Healthy People,” explores the challenges of developing sustainable food systems in light of climate change, while at the same time improving human nutrition and health outcomes. The four papers in this collection were inspired by sponsored sessions at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, Nutrition 2019. These papers integrate nutrition science with perspectives from agricultural, food, and environmental studies as well as socioeconomics.
This special collection was developed by Climate/environmental change, Health, Agriculture and Improving Nutrition (CHAIN), one of ASN’s Research Interest Sections. It represents one of the three winners of CurrDevNutr’s Research Interest Section Special Collections Competition. Announced in 2019, the competition challenged ASN Research Interest Sections to develop special collections for publication in CurrDevNutr that address pressing issues in nutrition science today.
Below are highlights from each of the papers in the special collection.
Progress in defining national policies using a food systems approach is hampered by the limited number of studies linking sustainable production to sustainable consumption.
ASN member Jessica Fanzo et al. took a critical look at food systems, sustainability, and human health. The authors argued that a food systems approach to reaching many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals holds promise. They did, however, point out that “progress in defining national policies using a food systems approach is hampered by the limited number of studies linking sustainable production to sustainable consumption.”
All the elements of a sustainable food system—production, processing, distribution, preparation, and consumption—must interconnect to ensure food security and nutrition from generation to generation. The authors, however, found that consumer preference, taste, and convenience are often-overlooked factors in developing a sustainable food system. Although better information and cost incentives might encourage consumers to make healthier, more sustainable choices, the authors acknowledged that consumer choice could be an impediment both to healthy eating and to the development of a sustainable food system.
Food systems may need to be restructured to ensure that the global food supply provides adequate calories and nutrients at an affordable cost.
According to ASN member Adam Drewnowski et al., “food systems may need to be restructured to ensure that the global food supply provides adequate calories and nutrients at an affordable cost.” To facilitate this restructuring, the authors presented various strategies to transition from research concepts to the implementation of policies that encourage consumers to choose healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Moving from research concepts to implementation, however, does require identifying where evidence-based interventions should and could occur. In addition, the authors noted the need to develop a method to assess progress toward sustainable food systems by establishing a set of metrics that can measure change over time from a baseline.
ASN member Daniel J. Raiten et al. examined the role of animal source foods in meeting micronutrient needs in a changing environment. The authors pointed to a number of studies which demonstrate the health benefits of consuming animal source foods over the course of a lifespan.
While animal source foods have many desirable nutritional attributes, the authors acknowledge that many researchers believe that their consumption must be limited to reduce environmental impacts. In particular, consumption of animal source foods from ruminant animals has been targeted due to the greenhouse gases that result from ruminal fermentation. In response, the authors noted “the relationship between ruminant animals and greenhouse gases is complex and it is important that this complexity is understood and considered when developing dietary guidance.”
The prevailing model of governance assigns malnutrition to the health sector and food insecurity to agriculture, resulting in a disjointed and uncoordinated framework.
The many challenges on the road to sustainable nutrition and food security are interconnected and cannot be addressed in isolation. ASN member Eileen Kennedy et al. argued that “a holistic approach is needed to address challenges of sustainability, environmental degradation, persistent poverty, vulnerability, and hunger and malnutrition.” Nonetheless, “the prevailing model of governance assigns malnutrition to the health sector and food insecurity to agriculture, resulting in a disjointed and uncoordinated framework.” On the other hand, “the opportunities to respond are enormous, and a new collective and integrated approach is imperative.”