Sustainable nutrition: What influence do nutrition environments have?
Von Daniela Weible and Johanna Schott | 27.06.2022
What factors influence individual eating habits? And how can they be shaped so that people eat healthier, fairer and more sustainably? The Thünen Institute is investigating these questions at national and international level.
More sustainability in nutrition is an important goal both nationally and internationally for sustainable development and for dealing with current challenges: diet-related diseases that strain health systems, unfair production and market practices, poor animal welfare or environmental and climate burdens. Nutrition in general, i.e. the question of what and how much we eat, but also the respective diets are important starting points for counteracting these challenges because they influence the processes along the entire value chain.
The aim of our research is to develop solutions to shape food environments in such a way that diets become more sustainable nationally and internationally. This means, above all, healthier, fairer and more environmentally friendly.
Food environments are embedded in a food system. The food system comprises, among other things, the different types of food production (e.g. industrial or artisanal) including agricultural production, the sociocultural framework expressed in different food traditions in different countries (e.g. rice in Asia), as well as political circumstances such as national dietary plans in France and China or a tax on sugary drinks in the UK.
From an individual's point of view, the food environment includes the following elements:
1. external food environment: the shopping places, e.g. discounters, supermarkets and weekly markets, the way food is offered (e.g. advertising) and its availability, quality and sustainability.
2. internal food environment: preferences for certain foods determine whether people buy unprocessed foods or convenience products; their affordability plays a role as well as the spatial proximity to the shopping place.
The external and internal food environments result in the procurement and consumption of foods that contribute to a particular diet and individual health status. In order to change individual dietary behaviour, the different elements of the external and internal food environments must be addressed.
In order to examine how sustainable a certain diet is, not only the food environments have to be considered, e.g. the shopping routes, the type of preparation and the question of whether products are bought frozen or fresh, but the entire food system. This means that the use of resources from the production to the utilisation of a food product must also be evaluated on a site-specific basis. In addition to production, processing and storage, this includes all transport costs as well as food losses and waste. Working conditions must also be considered when assessing the sustainability of diets.