Prof. Jennie Macdiarmid

Talk title
Future of healthy, environmentally sustainable and desirable diets: guidelines, industry and consumers

Poor diets, poverty and climate change are some of the global challenges facing us today. Healthy and sustainable diets can play an important part in addressing these issues. In 2010, the FAO published a comprehensive definition of sustainable diets and many countries revised their dietary guidelines to incorporate environmental sustainability. One dominant, but often contentious, recommendation is reducing consumption of animal products since the production of livestock has a much greater environmental impact than production of plant-based commodities. In 2019, the FAO and WHO published a joint report ‘Sustainable, Healthy Diets – Guiding Principles’ grouping the guidance into health, environmental impacts and sociocultural aspects (e.g. affordability, access and desirability). In much of early research, the sociocultural aspects were overlooked with health and environment the focus, which was reflected in some of the example diets. However, research consistently shows sociocultural aspects, including price, pleasure and social norms, are primary drivers of decision making among consumers, while health is a bigger driver than environment. To tackle global warming and limit climate change diets must change and this means reducing consumption of meat and dairy and a shift to more plant-based diets. The challenge is putting this into practice. The recent rapid increase in availability of processed plant-based alternatives to meat (e.g. burgers, sausage rolls, ready meals) could help with the transition to plant-based diets by addressing some of the barriers consumers have expressed, such as not knowing what to eat, the perception of the difficultly and time it takes to make plant-based meals. However, many of the processed plant-based convenience foods are high in fat, salt and sugar and use commodities that can have negative impact on the environment. Going forward sociocultural aspects must be integrated in sustainable healthy diets but this must be alongside health and environment.

Jennie Macdiarmid is a Professor of Sustainable Nutrition and Health and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing at the University of Aberdeen in the UK. Jennie gained a BSc (Hons) in Food Science and Nutrition from the University of Surrey, followed by a PhD in Psychology from the University of Leeds. Her current research on nutrition security and sustainable diets is truly interdisciplinary bring together nutrition, health, climate change and environment with social and behaviours aspects of eating and she has published over 80 research papers. She published one of the first studies testing the compatibility of achieving nutritional requirements with reducing greenhouse gas emissions to create healthy, sustainable diets, which was influential in stimulating national and international debates on this topic.