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Diet and food production must radically change to improve health – expert comment

Feeding a growing population of ten billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste, according to a new EAT-Lancet Commission

The report provides the first scientific targets for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system that operates within planetary boundaries for food. It promotes diets consisting of a variety of plant-based foods, with low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars, and with unsaturated rather than saturated fats.

How realistic is a ‘healthy diet for all’? And how challenging will be the policy recommendations in the Commission be to implement? Alan Dangour, Professor in Food and Nutrition for Global Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, gives his expert reaction:

“The analysis demonstrates that shifts in our diets can have enormous beneficial effects on health and also substantially reduce our impacts on the environment.  This significant ‘win-win’ for health and the environment is not a new finding, but this analysis, which for the first time defines environmental boundaries for the food system, is the most advanced ever conducted.

“The Commission recommends a ‘healthy diet’ for all.  Populations around the world eat strikingly different diets that have been shaped among other things by tradition, culture and wealth.  The “healthy diet” would require significant shifts to existing dietary habits in most countries (including the UK), such as large reductions in meat intake and substantial increases in fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes consumption.  There is a major question about the ability of populations to shift to such dietary recommendations and their wider public acceptability.

“Many of the important policy recommendations in the Commission cut across the portfolios of traditional government departments (such as agriculture and environment, health, trade, international development in the UK) and will be challenging to implement in many countries.

“This is an important set of analyses that highlights the critical link between human health and the health of our planet.  Urgently increasing access to healthy and sustainable diets for all people, and coordinating effective policy responses across government departments are among the key changes required if we are to safeguard human and planetary health in the coming decades.”