Scientists discuss transforming food systems for healthier and more sustainable diets during British Nutrition Foundation conference

Scientists discuss transforming food systems for healthier and more sustainable diets during British Nutrition Foundation conference. Experts with an interest in the transformation of the UK food system have outlined key steps needed to change food production and the way people eat in order to achieve diets that are both healthier and more sustainable, during the British Nutrition Foundation’s annual day conference: ‘Healthier People on a Healthier Planet – the perfect outcome for a transformed food system’. Discussing key changes needed within the food industry, Prof Guy Poppy CB, University of Southampton, highlighted that the current food system is making us and the planet sick, during his talk titled ‘Transforming the UK food system: why does driving change nationally inform the global challenge?’. He described how the increasing urgency to transform the food system led to the development and funding of a new UK-wide research programme linking researchers to the private, public and third sectors. This research could not only transform the UK food system but provide a case-study for transforming food systems across the world. Dr John Gilliland OBE, Devenish Nutrition, presented the work currently underway to reduce the environmental footprint of ruminants, and shared how, in partnership with the University College Dublin Institute of Food and Health, Devenish is working to deliver carbon neutral beef and lamb production by 2025. Dr Gililand highlighted that, while beef and lamb production is often in the media spotlight, ruminants can convert grass and other roughage, indigestible for humans, into meat and milk that can provide important nutrients for us, as part of a balanced diet. He described how work on the Devenish research farm in Ireland showed that innovative farming techniques can deliver reductions in the environmental impact of ruminant food production. Also commenting on food industry reform, Matt Towner, from the Impact on Urban Health Childhood Obesity Programme, emphasised the role of the food industry in reshaping food environments and improving children’s health, while arguing that a range of approaches are needed that both support and challenge the food industry. Judith Batchelar OBE, Independent Advisor, joined the line up to discuss ‘Healthy sustainable diets – a global perspective’, including a look at the extent to which the dietary changes we need can be achieved by stealth versus customers making active choices. She stressed that the challenge the world faces is to improve planetary health and human health simultaneously, and what makes this even more difficult is the complexity of defining the details of a diet that is good for us as well as the planet, and then communicating this in a meaningful way that enables change. She also reflected on the opportunities associated with the necessary transition and the role of the UK scientific community in ensuring we have an evidence-based and measured approach that is transparent and best in class. Prof Bob Doherty from York University outlined details of the new FixOurFood project, funded through UKRI’s ‘Transforming UK food systems’ programme looking at three inter-related systems: healthy eating for young children, hybrid food economies, and regenerative farming. Dr Simon Steenson presented findings from the British Nutrition Foundation’s recently published review paper, Healthier and more sustainable diets: what changes are needed in high-income countries?. He outlined some of the key steps the public can take to make diets both healthier and more environmentally sustainable, while also considering what is affordable and culturally acceptable. Shifting to diets that contain more fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, beans and other pulses than current diets is likely to have both environmental and health benefits compared to current average diets. But, he stressed that inclusion of moderate amounts of meat, fish, eggs, milk, and dairy foods still has an important role in a healthy and sustainable diet, providing essential micro-nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12.
Prof Judy Buttriss Director General, British Nutrition Foundation comments: “We have heard a lot about the biodiversity loss and ecosystem impact of our diets, but nutrition should also be central to discussions about how to transform diets and food systems for the better, alongside other important considerations, such as affordability and cultural acceptability for different groups of people. While there is a growing focus on alternative dietary protein sources, we must look beyond protein and also focus on the package of essential nutrients that accompany protein in commonly consumed protein sources, such as zinc and iron in meat, and calcium, iodine and riboflavin in milk. “Implementation of emerging and future innovations is needed within the food system to help reduce the environmental impact of food production and food consumption. In tandem with this, routine monitoring is essential of the nutritional quality of foods and diets that result from this transition. During our annual day conference, we heard from a range of experts who are working on innovations to transform the food system for a healthier and more sustainable future.”

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