Sustainable nutrition: Opportunities, risks and uncertainties from environmental and health perspectives

University dissertation from Media-Tryck

Abstract: Food production and consumption are key drivers of environmental pressures and are essential factors in the promotion and maintenance of health. Production of food occupies more than one third of global land areas and is estimated to be responsible for some 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, we live in a world where nearly one billion people go hungry and even more people suffer from problems related to overweight and associated diet-related chronic diseases. This raises the question of the sustainability of current food systems and diets.
This thesis analyzes the potential and limitation for diet change to contribute more sustainable food systems. The results show that dietary change can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and land use demand of the diet, and simultaneously improve the nutritional quality and health effects of the diet. The positive synergies suggest that dietary change can play an important role in reaching future environmental and health goals.
Assessments of environmental- and health effects of food consumption and production are hampered by uncertainty and variability, and awareness of the limitations in the quality of data and methods is crucial. Transparent presentation of data and methods is necessary for a proper evaluation of the reliability and significance of the results. Improvement of data and further development of methods are required to further increase the quality of the assessments.
In this thesis, an interdisciplinary approach is used which combines methods originating from the fields of environmental-, nutritional- and health- studies. Life cycle assessment is used to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions and land use demand of food production, while the nutritional and health effects of food consumption are analyzed by using nutrient calculation and nutrition epidemiology. Integration of nutritional and health aspects into environmental assessments of food is an exciting development of the research field contributing to important new knowledge. To further broaden the perspectives and deepen the knowledge of sustainable food systems more aspects need to be covered.