Sustainability by the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (Website)

The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (VN DPG) is the leading authority on evidence-based plant-based nutrition for the public and health professionals who wish to learn more about the benefits of plant-based diets for health and sustainability.

VN DPG professionals are at the forefront of educating the public about vegetarian nutrition and its relationship to disease management and prevention. The VN DPG comprises about 1,400 members. The membership comprises a significant number of Americans, Canadians and overseas members from Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. VN DPG members work as consultants, clinical dietitians, researchers and in other job settings.

Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets: “Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.”

A conceptual framework for understanding the environmental impacts of ultra-processed foods and implications for sustainable food systems (2022)

K. Anastasiou, P. Baker, M. Hadjikakou, G.A. Hendrie, M. Lawrence. A conceptual framework for understanding the environmental impacts of ultra-processed foods and implications for sustainable food systems. Journal of Cleaner Production. Volume 368, 2022, 133155, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.133155 (paywall).

Relevant to: 

Dietitians interested in understanding the environmental impacts of UPFs.

Question: 

Research aim: to determine the types of environmental impacts resulting from each stage of UPF production, and the magnitude of these impacts in the context of dietary consumption patterns

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

  • The findings highlight that environmental degradation associated with UPFs is of significant concern due to the substantial resources used in the production and processing of such products, and also because UPFs are superfluous to basic human needs.

Abstract: 

  • Minimising environmental impacts and prioritising the production of nutritious foods are essential qualities of a sustainable food system. Ultra-processed foods (UFPs) are potentially counterproductive to these objectives.
  • This review aims to summarise the magnitude and types of environmental impacts resulting from each stage of the UPF supply chain and to develop a conceptual framework to display these impacts. It also aims to identify the terms used to describe UPFs in the sustainability literature, and the methods used to measure the associated environmental impacts.
  • A narrative review approach with a systematic search strategy was used. Fifty-two studies were included that either described or quantified the environmental impacts of UPFs.
  • This review found that UPFs are responsible for significant diet-related environmental impacts.
    • Included studies reported that UPFs accounted for between 17 and 39% of total diet-related energy use, 36–45% of total diet-related biodiversity loss, up to one-third of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, land use and food waste and up to one-quarter of total diet-related water-use among adults in a range of high-income countries.
    • These results varied depending on the scope of the term used to describe UPFs, stages of the lifecycle included in the analyses and country.
    • Studies also identified that UPF production and consumption has impacts on land degradation, herbicide use, eutrophication and packaging use, although these impacts were not quantified in relation to dietary contribution.
  • The findings highlight that environmental degradation associated with UPFs is of significant concern due to the substantial resources used in the production and processing of such products, and also because UPFs are superfluous to basic human needs.
  • The conceptual framework and findings presented can be used to inform food policy and dietary guideline development, as well as provide recommendations for future research.

Details of results: 

From a resource-use perspective, UPFs are not a necessary component of diets and therefore environmental impacts are avoidable. Environmental impacts from UPFs occur across the entire supply chain. These impacts range in magnitude, but research on Australian discretionary food consumption indicates that they are significant; approximately one-third of diet-related energy, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water use was driven by the production of discretionary foods in Australia.

UPFs reliance on low-cost, high-yield commodities is a driver of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, intensive processing technologies is a driver of diet-related energy use and reliance on packaging drives plastic pollution.

Meat-based UPFs appear to be significant drivers of UPF-related greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based UPFs also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions but their impacts on biodiversity and deforestation are perhaps more concerning.

Of additional interest: 

The ways in which foods were classified in the original research articles influenced study findings. This highlights the importance of considering the most relevant food classification system, and the potential impacts of the classification on the findings. Specifically, some outcomes, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use, appeared to be driven by whether or not studies included processed meats in their ‘unhealthy food’ category.None

Conflict of interest/ Funding:  

none

External relevant links:  

Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity (2022) – The contribution of ultra-processed foods to agrobiodiversity loss is significant, but so far has been overlooked in global food systems summits, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences. Ultra-processed foods need to be given urgent and high priority in the agendas of such meetings, and policies and action agreed. 

Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods by Pesco-Vegetarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans: Associations with Duration and Age at Diet Initiation (2020) – This study assessed the intake of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and unprocessed foods within a group of meat eaters and vegetarians (pesco-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans) in France.

Corresponding author: 

Kim Anastasiou, Ms, kim.anastasiou@adelaide.edu.au

Conceptualising the drivers of ultra-processed food production and consumption and their environmental impacts: A group model-building exercise (2023)

Kim Anastasiou, Phillip Baker, Gilly A. Hendrie, Michalis Hadjikakou, Sinead Boylan, Abhishek Chaudhary, Michael Clark, Fabrice A.J. DeClerck, Jessica Fanzo, Anthony Fardet, Fernanda Helena Marrocos Leite, Daniel Mason-D’Croz, Rob Percival, Christian Reynolds, Mark Lawrence. Conceptualising the drivers of ultra-processed food production and consumption and their environmental impacts: A group model-building exercise. Global Food Security, Volume 37, 2023, 100688, ISSN 2211-9124. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2023.100688 (paywall)

Relevant to: 

Policy makers and dietitians interested in system-wide policy change.

Question: 

This study aimed to develop and validate a conceptual model of the known and potential environmental impacts across ultra-processed food (UPF) systems.

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

  • UPFs are associated with a wide range of environmental harms, driven by a profit-based, corporatized food system and enforced by product design and a food environment structured to encourage UPF consumption. Effectively reducing UPF production and consumption would require a suite of policies acting on the political economy, food environment and production system.

Abstract: 

  • Using group model building we developed a series of causal loop diagrams identifying the environmental impacts of ultra-processed food (UPF) systems, and underlying system drivers, which was subsequently validated against the peer-reviewed literature.
  • The final conceptual model displays the commercial, biological and social drivers of the UPF system, and the impacts on environmental sub-systems including climate, land, water and waste. It displays complex interactions between various environmental impacts, demonstrating how changes to one component of the system could have flow-on effects on other components. Trade-offs and uncertainties are discussed.
  • The model has a wide range of applications including informing the design of quantitative analyses, identifying research gaps and potential policy trade-offs resulting from a reduction of ultra-processed food production and consumption.

Details of results: 

There are a range of mechanisms by which UPFs harm the environment. Impacts do not occur in isolation and many are cumulative, whereby one type of environmental damage acts to further degrade other forms of environmental damage. Impacts include climate change, land and soil degradation, water scarcity, biodiversity and agrobiodiversity loss, eutrophication, food loss and waste, plastic waste and air pollution.

Drivers of environmental degradation include a political economy system which acts to reinforce profits of UPF corporations, drive corporate political power and ultimately weaken protective food policies. Other drivers include product design, whereby UPFs are designed to be as palatable as possible and a food environment which enables access to inexpensive UPFs around the globe.

Ultimately a shift in production is required to meet the goals of healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems. However, policies which encourage a shift away from UPF production towards unprocessed, minimally processed and processed foods, need to account for trade-offs. Trade-offs relate to production efficiency, time pressures, food loss and waste, land use, cost and convenience (see Table 1).

Of additional interest: 

The model highlights research gaps which could be used by future researchers to determine UPF-related research studies. Furthermore, the model can be used to guide researchers on designing quantitative environmental impact assessments, as well as to provide a guide for interpreting quantitative findings in the context of complex and dynamic food systems.

Conflict of interest/ Funding:  

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. KA was funded by a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship.

External relevant links:  

Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity (2022) – The contribution of ultra-processed foods to agrobiodiversity loss is significant, but so far has been overlooked in global food systems summits, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences. Ultra-processed foods need to be given urgent and high priority in the agendas of such meetings, and policies and action agreed.

Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods by Pesco-Vegetarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans: Associations with Duration and Age at Diet Initiation (2020) – This study assessed the intake of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and unprocessed foods within a group of meat eaters and vegetarians (pesco-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans) in France.

Corresponding author: 

Kim Anastasiou, Ms – kim.anastasiou@adelaide.edu.au

Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity (2022)

Leite FHM, Khandpur N, Andrade GC, et al. Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity. BMJ Global Health 2022;7:e008269. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2021-008269

This commentary highlights the impact of global diets characterised by a high intake of ultra-processed foods on agrobiodiversity. It calls for prioritising and addressing ultra-processed foods in global food system dialogues and policy, and country-level action.

Summary box

► The global industrial food system and consequent rapid rise of ultra-processed foods is severely impairing biodiversity. Yet although the impacts of existing land use and food production practices on biodiversity have received much attention, the role of ultra-processed foods has been largely ignored.

► An increasingly prominent ‘globalised diet’, characterised by an abundance of branded ultra-processed food products made and distributed on an industrial scale, comes at the expense of the cultivation, manufacture and consumption of traditional foods, cuisines and diets, comprising mostly fresh and minimally processed foods.

► Ultra-processed foods are typically manufactured using ingredients extracted from a handful of high-yielding plant species, including maize, wheat, soy and oil seed crops. Animal-sourced ingredients used in many ultra-processed foods are often derived from confined animals fed on the same crops.

► The contribution of ultra-processed foods to agrobiodiversity loss is significant, but so far has been overlooked in global food systems summits, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences. Ultra-processed foods need to be given urgent and high priority in the agendas of such meetings, and policies and action agreed.

Conclusion

The very rapid rise of ultra-processed foods in human diets will continue to place pressure on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption. Future global food systems fora, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences need to highlight the destruction of agrobiodiversity caused by ultra-processed foods, and to agree on policies and actions designed to slow and reverse this disaster. Relevant policymakers at all levels, researchers, professional and civil society organisations, and citizen action groups, need to be part of this process.

Environmental sustainability in national food-based dietary guidelines: a global review (2022)

Citation: James-Martin G, Baird DL, Hendrie GA, et al. Environmental sustainability in national food-based dietary guidelines: a global review. Lancet Planet Health 2022; 6: e977–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00246-7

Summary

Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) provide country-specific guidance on what constitutes a healthy diet. With increasing evidence for the synergy between human and planetary health, FBDGs have started to consider the environmental sustainability of food choices. However, the number of countries that discuss environmental sustainability in their guidelines is unknown.

The purpose of this Review was to identify countries with government-endorsed FBDGs that made explicit mention of environmental sustainability and to examine the breadth and depth of the inclusion of sustainability in FBDGs. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN identified 95 countries with FBDGs.

We assessed 83 countries against our inclusion criteria, of which 37 mentioned environmental sustainability. Relevant content was assessed against a set of criteria based on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s guiding principles for sustainable healthy diets.

The depth to which environmental sustainability was discussed varied and it was often restricted to general explanations of what a sustainable diet is. Few FBDGs addressed why sustainability is important, how dietary changes can be made, or provided quantified advice for implementing sustainable diets.

Key messages

  • Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) are increasingly including content to address the relationship between dietary intake and environmental sustainability. At present, this information is more likely to be reported in background documents than consumer documents, restricting its visibility to users of the consumer documentation.
  • The principles most commonly addressed in FBDGs are associated with culture, inclusion of animal-based and plant-based foods in the diet, environmental effect, biodiversity, and food waste. However, information is general, and practical, specific advice, or quantified recommendations for action are scarce.
  • To achieve the transformation to food systems needed to curb the accelerating environmental decline globally, more countries need to commit to developing FBDGs that explicitly emphasise the crucial link between diet and planetary health and provide specific and practical advice to address these issues.

37 countries with environmental sustainability in their FBDG:

  1. Argentina
  2. Australia
  3. Belgium‡
  4. Brazil
  5. Canada
  6. Colombia
  7. Costa Rica
  8. Denmark
  9. Ecuador
  10. El Salvador
  11. Estonia
  12. Finland
  13. France
  14. Germany
  15. Greece
  16. Guatemala
  17. Iceland
  18. Italy
  19. Japan
  20. Kenya
  21. Malta
  22. Mexico
  23. Netherlands
  24. New Zealand
  25. North Macedonia
  26. Norway
  27. Peru
  28. Poland
  29. Qatar
  30. Sierra Leone
  31. South Africa
  32. Sweden
  33. Switzerland
  34. Türkiye
  35. UK
  36. Uruguay
  37. Venezuela

Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH)

Since 2008 the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) has engaged healthcare professionals, patients, and the wider community to understand the connections between health and the environment and reduce healthcare’s resource footprint.

CSH’s work is guided by the principles of sustainable clinical practice:

  • Prevention
  • Patient empowerment and self care
  • Lean systems
  • Low carbon alternatives

CSH programmes equip healthcare professionals and organisations with methods and metrics for sustainable models of care:

  • Sustainable Specialties Programme
  • Carbon Footprinting and Triple Bottom Line Analysis
  • Education and Training
  • Sustainability in Quality Improvement
  • The Green Team Competition
  • Green Space for Health
  • Sustainable Healthcare Peer Networks

CSH was born in and will always have its heart in Oxford, England, but our expanding team of international experts is situated all over the UK, the EU and beyond. CSH has grown into the world’s foremost institution for sustainable healthcare in research and practice and has had a positive impact on so much of the healthcare system in the UK and beyond.

From measuring and reducing our own carbon footprint to prioritising the health, wellbeing, and work/life balance of those in our team, the CSH team practices what they preach every day. In line with our sustainable ethos, we minimise the daily commute by working online. This provides us with the freedom and efficiency to tap into the best and brightest minds in their fields while making a positive impact on the environment in the way we work.

By building its own research base, best practice recommendations and an ever-growing bank of case studies, it has fulfilled its goal of bringing all of that expert knowledge into action, changing clinical care and influencing policy at the highest level.

As CSH goes from strength to strength, so too does its message that healthcare can be sustainable.

Co-production of research for food systems transformation: mapping and exploring examples of co-production activities across Transforming the UK Food System (TUKFS) projects (2024)

About this project

Led by Dr Clare Pettinger (University of Plymouth, FoodSEqual) and Professor Charlotte Hardman (University of Liverpool, FIO FoodBeanMeals), this interdisciplinary, cross-project collaboration has engaged researchers from multiple academic institutions in order to better understand how to facilitate, support, and invest in future co-produced research for food systems transformation. 

There is an urgent need for transformation of the UK food system. The ways in which food is currently produced, accessed, and eaten are having significant negative impacts on human health and causing damage to our environment.

To address these issues, there has been a recent shift towards the use of creative and participatory methods of research, including co-production. In line with this, “co-producing research across disciplines and stakeholders to provide evidence for coherent policymaking” is a key strategic aim of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Transforming UK Food Systems (TUKFS) SPF Programme.  

As part of the TUKFS Annual Synergy Fund, this research project identified and mapped examples of where co-production, co-design or co-creation methods are being employed for food system transformation across six TUKFS projects.

This toolkit shares the outputs of this research project, including 11 case studies of co-production, a ‘messy map’ representing our key findings, as well as practical considerations intended for researchers, academic institutions, and funders engaging with these innovative methodological approaches.

German Nutrition Society (DGE): DGE position statement on a more sustainable diet (2021)

Renner B, Arens-Azevêdo U, Watzl B, Richter M, Virmani K, Linseisen. J for the German Nutrition Society (DGE): DGE position statement on a more sustainable diet. Ernahrungs Umschau 2021; 68(7): 144–54. DOI: 10.4455/eu.2021.030

Summary

Our understanding of the term sustainability has evolved considerably over the last 50 years and is now a key element of social action. An essential part of sustainable development is a more sustainable diet. In this position paper, the German Nutrition Society states that advocating for and promoting a more sustainable diet is an integral part of its activities. Health is a key goal of a more sustainable diet since health, quality of life, and well-being are affected by what people eat and drink. The goal dimensions of environment, animal welfare, and social aspects are explicitly added to the goal dimension of health (in their various definitions).

The food environment is also immensely important for nutritional behaviour. The DGE relies on statements from the report of the Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Health Protection at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (WBAE) to present a comprehensive form of the various aspects of a more sustainable diet. The position paper ensures a common basis for developing an understanding of a more sustainable diet, and enables the different fields of nutritional science to pursue a differentiated development from their specific perspectives. This paper should provide the DGE with an orientation and a commitment for its work in the future.

Planetary Health by Rx Brick Exchange (updated regularly)

One of the free collections by Rx Brix Exchange is about Planetary Health, which covers the relationship between human health and the environment to empower future health professionals to prepare for and tackle challenges that a changing climate and environmental pollution present to our health and livelihoods. 14 bricks are in the collection and it will take about 3 hours to read or listen to if you choose the audio.

About Rx Brick Exchange

Rx Brick Exchange is a place to share and build on ideas and curriculum, learn from leading experts, and use their expertise in your classroom. Their mission is to create sustainable and accessible medical education for students and educators around the world. It is the first global health sciences curriculum exchange that empowers educators to create and share health science Bricks with faculty and students worldwide.

The Medical Student Alliance for Global Education (MeSAGE) is a student-driven consortium of the world’s leading medical student organizations, representing over 1.3 million learners. Founded in 2019, MeSAGE empowers and supports student organizations with the tools they need to work toward closing educational gaps in areas like health equity, diversity, inclusion, or social justice.

Content development processes are constantly evolving, as they embark on new projects and redefine roles. Their commitment to working with students never wavers. They have a directory of student authors and reviewers to acknowledge people who contribute to the development of the global, shared curriculum vision.

Rx Essentials Collections is a comprehensive library of digital learning modules, designed to help build your foundation of medical knowledge, brick by brick. There are 23 free collections. A 5-day free trial lets you access all of them to see if you are interested in paying to access them as a member.

“A ruined planet cannot sustain human lives in good health. A healthy planet and healthy people are two sides of the same coin.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, Former Director General of the World Health Organization.

Manifesto for One Health in Europe (2023)

From the Manifesto:

The Coalition of Health Professionals for Regenerative Agriculture is a growing movement of health professionals and a multidisciplinary set of people and organisations connecting the dots between soil health and human health. This manifesto aims to give voice to a European Regenerative Healthcare movement and incentivise actions across the food, agriculture, and healthcare systems. This piece aims to align the voices of different stakeholders to achieve One Health in Europe.

The One Health concept highlights that the health and well-being of humans are inseparably linked to the health of other ecosystem components such as soil, plants, and animals. As health professionals, we recognise our unique role in mitigating the climate, food, and health crisis by promoting One Health.

Regenerative Healthcare is one of the practical solutions of One Health, where soil health connects to human health. The cycle starts with the farmer, who grows nutrient-dense food through agroecological practices. The food is then provided to hospitals and other public institutions as a tool to treat and prevent disease.

This chain demands that health professionals and all the different stakeholders involved have a holistic understanding of agriculture, nutrition, food systems, and also prevention-based measures to tackle human and environmental health crises. Training healthcare providers in regenerative healthcare promote soil, plant, animal, and human health, and it can scale regenerative agriculture and agroecology.