Health and sustainability goals entail trade-offs

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers may trade sustainability for more self-centred purchase motivators, like health, taste or cost
Consumers may trade sustainability for more self-centred purchase motivators, like health, taste or cost
Pursuing health and environmental sustainability goals at the same time requires trade-offs, argues an Aarhus University associate professor in Current Opinion in Food Science.

Jessica Aschemann-Witzel, of the university’s MAPP Centre for Research on Customer Relations in the Food Sector, claims that there are synergies between healthy eating and sustainability, but there are also times when pursuing one of these goals may adversely impact the other.

“Understanding and acknowledging the trade-offs that consumers might encounter or perceive is important in order to avoid that policies pursuing one goal are negatively impacting the other, and instead ensure they are mutually supportive,”​ she wrote in the opinion piece.

She gives the example of advice to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for good health, while these crops have high losses in production and retail, and a large amount of wastage at the consumer level. Food miles associated with fruits and vegetables may also be relatively high, due to their seasonality.

“A consumer prioritising self-centred motives might refrain from choosing products that are described as more sustainable, if a trade-off is assumed to exist between a self-centred motive such as taste, health, or low price and an attribute that should be of benefit to the broader society,”​ she wrote.

However, healthy eating advice to increase intake of plant-based foods while decreasing animal-derived and highly processed foods could lead to a net benefit for the environment too, with lower associated levels of carbon emissions.

“It has been found that the concern about ‘food miles’ is overrating the relative environmental impact of transportation: for most foods, the share of transportation is dwarfed by the crucial impact of the production stage, unless, however, transportation is via air. Furthermore, using less highly processed foods in the diet should, apart from being healthier, also be relatively more environmentally friendly due to lower energy use and possibly less package material needed,” ​she wrote.

She added that overeating is one of the biggest problems for both health and the environment, and eating “just the right amount” would be beneficial from both perspectives.

 

Source: Current Opinion in Food Science

doi:10.1016/j.cofs.2014.08.002

“Consumer perception and trends about health and sustainability: trade-offs and synergies of two pivotal issues”

Author: Jessica Aschemann-Witzel

 

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