Scientific Updates /
Adoption of national dietary guidelines can not only improve health but can be ecologically favourable
21 January 2022
Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG) are a useful tool to communicate information about health and environmentally sustainable diets. They also influence decision making at the policy level as well as government-led behaviour change interventions.
Various studies have come to the conclusion that existing dietary guidelines not only improve health, but are more environmentally sustainable than current dietary habits.
A team of researchers, led by Lucia Aguirre Sánchez (PhD student at USI Università della Svizzera Italiana),(Springmann and colleagues.( ) Their preliminary findings were presented at the 14th European Public Health Conference in November 2021.) expanded on earlier work by
The team aimed to identify country FBDGs which have the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) if population-wide adherence was achieved. FBDG which could achieve a minimum reduction in GHGe of 25% compared to current intakes, were identified as highly environmentally sustainable.
The study identified several European countries whose national FBDGs have the potential to reduce GHGe by more than 25%, whilst delivering positive health outcomes: Germany, Brazil, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Italy and Switzerland. The team aims to expand their assessment beyond Europe. Detailed information on the different FBDG across the globe can be found on the FAO website.( )
Although FBDGs have traditionally focused on health and nutrition messages, it is evidence that many will also provide significant environmental benefits. A number of countries have already incorporated environmental factors when updating their FBDG which can provide learnings for other countries when reviewing their guidelines.
Several national dietary guidelines have been published which offer both health and environmental benefits. Greater adherence to these national dietary guidelines would support efforts to improve health outcomes and tackle climate change.
Global sustainable dietary guidelines
These more sustainable dietary recommendations have been modelled to ensure optimum human and planetary health. Their recommendations reflect many FBDG but provide more specificity. The guidelines include plenty of plant-based foods and foods which are lower in saturated fat, salt and sugars. Animal-based foods, including meat and dairy, play a lesser role, highlighting that only modest amounts are required for both human and planetary health.
These dietary recommendations have been set as guidance to be incorporated into national FBDG. Both the EAT Lancet and WHO advise nations to customise the guidelines for best fit with their specific national dietary, nutritional, health, socio-cultural, environmental and economic needs.
Aguirre Sánchez L, R Teschner R, Malinverno N, et al. Policy communication for health and sustainability: comparison of food-based dietary guidelines. European Journal of Public Health. 2021;31(3): doi.10.1093/eurpub/ckab165.142. https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/31/Supplement_3/ckab165.142/6405520
Springmann M, Spajic L, Clark MA et al. The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study. BMJ 2020 Jul 15;370:m2322. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2322. https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2322.long
FAO. Food-based dietary guidelines. FAO. Accessed Jan 2022. https://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-based-dietary-guidelines
EAT-Lancet Commission. EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report. EAT Forum 2020. Accessed Jan 2022. https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/eat-lancet-commission-summary-report/
World Health Organisation. Healthy diet. WHO April 2020. Accessed Jan 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet
Environmental impact of food-based dietary guidelines
Diets for a better future
Eat Lancet’s Planetary Health Diets: Plant-based food as part of the solution
Alpro Foundation report
Alpro Foundation Planet diets report