The Foundation recognises the need to connect dietary recommendations with current knowledge on sustainability of the food chain, to enable the population to choose a diet that is both healthy and sustainable. There is already work ongoing in this area, although the complexity of the issues involved and the need to provide reliable consistent advice means this is an issue that takes time to explore in depth.
We welcome the fact that this area has been explored in the Livewell report. The researchers involved have used the data and methodology available to provide a new perspective of our current dietary intakes in the UK and how this relates to dietary recommendations in the form of the Eatwell plate and to carbon emissions involved in providing the foods consumed. However, within the methodology used there are inevitably a number of uncertainties and assumptions made and the authors acknowledge that this report is only the first step in exploring how the foods we choose could impact on our environment. As such, it is important to note that this is not a basis on which to suggest changes to our current food based guidelines for healthy eating, the Eatwell plate.
The Eatwell plate and its predecessor the Balance of Good Health have been in existence for nearly 30 years and were developed by government departments with input from many experts and a formal consultation process. To ensure that the consistent messages about healthy eating are routinely communicated, this model forms the basis of all official communications about healthy eating in the UK. To put forward a different model without a full consultation and on the basis of a single report, which the authors acknowledge is only the first step in investigating this area, is unhelpful. This may cause confusion for those delivering healthy eating messages. In addition, consumers who are already tired of receiving conflicting messages regarding healthy eating may simply switch off from taking notice of dietary recommendations altogether.
As stated in the report, the UK population is not currently meeting dietary recommendations. A useful finding of this report is that simply moving towards the current dietary recommendations would provide a benefit from a sustainability viewpoint as well as being beneficial for the health of our population. Encouraging the population to eat foods in line with the proportions of the Eatwell plate provides a clear message to consumers that does not conflict with current advice and can also help to reduce the environmental impact of the diet consumed. This approach would also provide a novel way to communicate these tried and tested messages on a healthy diet to consumers with a particular interest in sustainability.
The full report is available here
Last reviewed February 2011. Next review due January 2013.