The diet dilemma

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Balancing health and sustainability and obesity’s global toll. 

Interesting article and stats – originally posted here.

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The debate regarding the make-up of a sustainable diet is likely to rage on into 2015. A recent paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Food Science neatly describes the headaches involved in aligning health and environmental agendas.

“Healthy eating recommendations call for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. However, fruit and vegetables are crops with a high ratio of losses in production and retailing, and the category is also causing an especially large share of household food waste,” writes Jessica Aschemann-Witzel from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.

 She has a point. But this doesn’t mean that health and sustainability are mutually exclusive. Instead, Aschemann-Witzel, an associate professor in the university’s centre for research on customer relations in the food sector, argues for “understanding and acknowledging the trade-offs that consumers might encounter or perceive as important in order to avoid that policies pursuing one goal are negatively impacting the other, and instead ensure they are mutually supportive”. An ability to combine health and environmental attributes, for example through meta-labels (see page 23 Feb Footprint), could help kill two birds with one stone. As would eating “just the right amount” of food.

Weight of the World

Not everyone is eating just the right amount, currently at least. Researchersv at the McKinsey Global Institute have calculated that more than 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese (that’s almost one  in three people). Obesity is also responsible for 5% of all deaths worldwide. And it’s quite a strain on the public purse too: the global economic impact is $2 trillion, more than alcoholism ($1.4 trillion) and only a shade less than smoking and armed violence, war and terrorism (both $2.1 trillion). McKinsey focused on the UK in its detailed report, showing that deploying 44 interventions – 95% of which are “low-cost, high impact” – could return 20% of overweight Brits to normal weight. Some of the most effective tactics include portion control and the reformulation of products.

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