Improving diets for better health and sustainability 

The world is off track for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets, with the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupting implementation of action, while affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most. At the same time, our food systems are challenged to provide nutritious food in an environmentally sustainable way while enhancing livelihoods.

The UN Food Systems Summit to be held in September 2021, occurs with the vision of launching bold new actions, solutions and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies on healthier, more sustainable and more equitable food systems. The Summit hopes to awaken the world to the fact that we must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food. The need to act urgently was also recognized by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message on World Food Day and 75th Anniversary of FAO, 2020, where he said, “We need to make food systems more resistant to volatility and climate shocks. We need to ensure sustainable and healthy diets for all, and to minimize food waste. And we need food systems that provide decent, safe livelihoods for workers.”

Sourcing food from sustainable, inclusive and resilient agri-food systems needs to be implemented hand-in-hand with the promotion of diets that are healthy, are socio-culturally acceptable and economically accessible for all, and have low environmental impacts. 

The Food and Nutrition Bulletin supplement Volume 41 Issue 2_suppl, December 2020: Improving Diets for Better Health and Sustainability provides an authoritative review of the current knowledge on all these different dimensions that need to be fulfilled by diets. The supplement was sponsored by FAO and WHO and contains six papers authored by recognized experts, accompanied by an editorial from FAO and WHO.  

The papers originate from an expert consultation organized by FAO and WHO from 1 to 3 July 2019 in Rome. Thirty-three experts knowledgeable in the various dimensions of healthy diets and aspects of sustainability, representing low, middle and high-income countries, participated in the consultation and/or contributed to drafting the background papers. The experts agreed on guiding principles for sustainable healthy diets, describing these as being: “dietary patterns that promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and wellbeing; have low environmental pressure and impact; are accessible, affordable, safe and equitable; and are culturally acceptable.” After the consultation, the papers were further revised and underwent an in-depth peer review process before being published by the Food and Nutrition Bulletin, which is a peer-reviewed, academic journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation. 

The information contained in this Supplement adds a meaningful contribution towards the evidence base on how to transform towards more sustainable food systems while taking into consideration context-specific barriers and managing trade-offs. This comes at a critical moment, where countries and other stakeholders prepare for the forthcoming UN Food System Summit as well as the Nutrition for Growth Summit. We hope that this scientific work will feed into the dialogues and further inspire and strengthen country-level action towards sustainable food systems enabling healthy diets over the second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. 

This series of papers also contributes to the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme of the One Planet network (previously known as the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns). With its focus on diets, this work inscribes well into the knowledge production arm of the SFS Programme core initiative on “Sustainable Diets within the Context of Sustainable Food Systems”. 

The supplement includes the following:

Editorial. Anna Lartey and Francesco Branca

Approaches to Defining Healthy Diets: A Background Paper for the International Expert Consultation on Sustainable Healthy Diets. Shiriki Kumanyika, Ashkan Afshin, Mary Arimond, Mark Lawrence, Sarah A. McNaughton, and Chizuru Nishida

The Role of Healthy Diets in Environmentally Sustainable Food Systems. Michael Clark, Jennie Macdiarmid, Andrew D. Jones, Janet Ranganathan, Mario Herrero, and Jessica Fanzo

Sociocultural Influences on Food Choices and Implications for Sustainable Healthy Diets. Eva C. Monterrosa, Edward A. Frongillo, Adam Drewnowski, Saskia de Pee, and Stefanie Vandevijvere

Shaping Physical, Economic, and Policy Components of the Food Environment to Create Sustainable Healthy Diets. Adam Drewnowski, Eva C. Monterrosa, Saskia de Pee, Edward A. Frongillo, and Stefanie Vandevijvere

Territorial and Sustainable Healthy Diets. Fatima Hachem, Davy Vanham, and Luis A. Moreno

Food Safety Implications of Transitions Toward Sustainable Healthy Diets. Sara M. Pires, Sofie T. Thomsen, Maarten Nauta, Morten Poulsen, and Lea S. Jakobsen


This supplement was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of FAO or WHO.