By Kai Sento Kargbo
Acknowledgements: A sincere thank you to the panel and presenters for their time and insights, and to the Cambridge One Health Society for co-facilitating the production of this webinar session.
Professor Sumantra Ray, James Bradfield, Helena Trigueiro and Dr Kathy Martyn
Journal Club Presenters and Panel
Shane McAuliffe, Prof Sumantra Ray, Dr Kathy Martyn, James Bradfield and Helena Trigueiro
In March, our members got together virtually for the second webinar and linked journal club on "Diet and Climate Change" which explored the synergistic relationship between diet sustainability and climate change. The aim of this blog is to summarise the key themes from the sessions, including main take-home points. However, the recordings of both the webinar and journal club sessions can be found on the IANE portal.
Following introductions by Shane McAuliffe, Science Communications Lead at NNEdPro, Professor Sumantra Ray, our first speaker of the evening, presented on “Research-Based Perspectives: from policy to practice”, referencing the award-winning Bhavishya Shakti Mobile Teaching Kitchen initiative, in Kolkata, India. In his presentation, Professor Ray recognises the need for multi-sectoral actions by the public sector, private sector, and government in developing context-specific solutions to the issues surrounding food, sustainability, and climate change.
Our next presenter, James Bradfield, discussed his editorial on the effectiveness of global dietary change as a strategy to mitigate climate change and its effects (Bradfield et al. 2020), published last year in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health. The main arguments in this article include;
- Global greenhouse emissions were at an all-time high in 2020, prior to COVID-19 lockdown measures, with food production accounting for 26% of all emissions.
- According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted.
- A multidisciplinary and multifactorial approach is needed to implement changes and address the issues surrounding climate change and diet sustainability.
- At the individual level, promoting plant-based diets bearing in mind affordability, nutritional adequacy and cultural preferences.
This was followed by Helena Trigueiro’s presentation, “Food, Sustainability and Health: what can we do?” on the role of individuals, industry, and government in addressing the “global syndemic” – a triangle with obesity, climate change, and undernutrition – all of which have effects on human health and the natural systems they depend upon. Lastly, we heard from Dr. Kathy Martyn who advocated for an assessment of food production and food systems at the local/national level.
Journal Club Summary
The journal club session was kicked off by Professor Sumantra Ray with a summary of the proceedings from the 24-hour Global Digital Marathon by the FAO and Future Food Institute, in celebration of the 54th Earth Day. The online event comprised of 24 multi-sectoral dialogues from leaders and experts around the world on the issues linking food, sustainability and health. Key arguments from the event include;
Our second speaker, Shane McAuliffe, provided an extensive overview of a modelling study, “The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study” by Springmann et al. 2020. Key findings from this study include:
- Healthy (and productive) populations are key to socioeconomic development and prosperity, emphasising the link between food systems, population health and development.
- High costs associated with the double burden of malnutrition, owing partly to the focus on curative rather than preventive health measures.
- The need for effective communication and implementation strategies, beyond model building, toward achieving impact at the individual and policy level.
- Dietary changes towards national Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) are associated with improved health outcomes, especially with regards to diet-related non-communicable diseases.
- Currently, over 50% of countries do not have national FBDGs.
- Some FBDGs were associated with moderate reductions in environmental impact, whereas most were incompatible with a set of environmental targets.
Our third and final speaker of the evening, Dr Kathy Martyn, emphasised the importance of the notion of commensality (“coming together for a meal”) in our understanding of sustainable diets and food consumption patterns across cultures and regions of the world. Further, in her reflections on health professionals and the healthcare setting in the UK, Dr Martyn highlights the central role of food in the provision of care, particularly in acute care settings.
The panel presentations were then followed by a highly engaging open discussion during which three key themes were explored;
Mediterranean Diet was discussed extensively as a concept that embraces sustainability, biodiversity, cultural values, and quality and palatability of food. Although the Mediterranean diet has shown success in improving overall health outcomes (in particular diet-related non-communicable disease), however issues surrounding its adaptability in different regions (and/or contexts) across the world were brought up. Some of the limitations discussed include local availability, affordability of food types, and cultural traditions and acceptability of food types.
The culture, values and local food and dietary customs as a key component to dietary patterns and food consumption was also discussed. Shane McAuliffe emphasised the need for food-based dietary guidelines to be in line with the local cultures, food environment, and traditions surrounding diet and food consumption.
Economics of health and eating was also a recurring theme. Who is going to pay for what? Can the individual afford the ‘healthier’ food types? The panelists reminded us that a key element of diet sustainability and health outcomes is affordability and access, which brings us to another critical aspect discussed, health and food equity. Two billion people worldwide do not have reliable access to safe and nutritious foods. The issue of food desserts were also discussed as barriers to healthy eating behaviour, especially among marginalised and impoverished communities. Therefore, sustainable food systems should ensure equitable access to safe and nutritious food, whilst also promoting the inclusion of vulnerable groups e.g., women and children, migrant workers etc.
Key Take-Home Points
- There is a need to shift to sustainable food consumption patterns which allow for high efficiency and reduced waste.
- Inequities in access to sustainable healthy diets persist, with nutrient rich foods being generally less available and less affordable than the energy dense but nutrient poor alternatives.
- Increasing awareness of the public, industry, and policy makers on the associations between diet sustainability, food insecurity and climate change is important but bringing health into the conversation is key.
- The science of nutrition is complex and multidisciplinary in nature, considering cultural factors, family dynamics, ethics, climate change and sustainability, all of which are not nutrition but have a huge impact on nutrition and dietary patterns and food consumption across cultures and regions of the world.
The next IANE webinar will be held in June 2021, focusing on “Workplace Wellbeing – Diet, Mind, Movement, Sleep”. To register, visit https://iane.nnedpro.org.uk/Events
BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health Special Collections on diet sustainability and Climate Change is calling for submissions. For more information, visit https://nutrition.bmj.com/pages/bmj-nutrition-prevention-health-collections/
Bradfield J, Trigueiro H, Ray S. (2020). Is global dietary change an effective strategy to curb climate change? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000101
Gomez-Zavaglia, A., Mejuto, J. C., & Simal-Gandara, J. (2020). Mitigation of emerging implications of climate change on food production systems. Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.), 134, 109256. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109256
Medina F. X. (2021). Looking for Commensality: On Culture, Health, Heritage, and the Mediterranean Diet. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(5), 2605. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052605
Springmann, M., Spajic, L., Clark, M. A., Poore, J., Herforth, A., Webb, P., Rayner, M., & Scarborough, P. (2020). The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 370, m2322. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2322
Swinburn, B. A., Kraak, V. I., Allender, S., Atkins, V. J., Baker, P. I., Bogard, J. R., Brinsden, H., Calvillo, A., De Schutter, O., Devarajan, R., Ezzati, M., Friel, S., Goenka, S., Hammond, R. A., Hastings, G., Hawkes, C., Herrero, M., Hovmand, P. S., Howden, M., Jaacks, L. M., … Dietz, W. H. (2019). The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report. Lancet (London, England), 393(10173), 791–846. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32822-8
SOFI 2020 – Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets available at https://scalingupnutrition.org/news/transforming-food-systems-for-affordable-healthy-diets/