Towards win-win policies for healthy and sustainable diets in Switzerland

Food systems (activities ranging from agricultural production to consumption and waste) are major drivers of impacts on human health and the environment. In response, there is a growing need for food system transformation, with shifting diets as a key lever of transformational change. In this study, the first Swiss national dietary survey (MenuCH) was used to screen disease burdens and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of Swiss diets (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, slimming),
with a focus on gender and education level. The Health Nutritional Index (HENI), a novel disease burden-based nutritional index built on the Global Burden of Disease studies, was used to indicate healthiness using comparable, relative disease burden scores. Our scientists at Quantis wrote this paper and helped design the study that brought together the cross-disciplines of sociology, LCA and public health.

Some key takeaways include:

  • it is not being “vegetarian” or “eating local” per se that helps make a more sustainable or healthier diet. Instead, it is key aspects of diets like whole grains, processed meat and alcohol that make the difference.
  • To have healthier and more sustainable diets (win-win!), everyone in Switzerland could eat more whole grains – this should be a far higher priority than addressing other ingredients such as less salt, sugar, red meat, or more fruits, vegetables, etc.
  • To have healthier and more sustainable diets (win-win!), Swiss men, in particular, could drink less alcohol and eat less processed meat
  • All diets (even vegan/vegetarian ones) were above the planetary boundary limit given by the Swiss confederation, so shifting eating behaviors is not enough to address the footprint of the Swiss food system. Action levers such as reducing food loss and waste, and eliminating deforestation and fossil fuels are critical.
Towards win-win policies for healthy and sustainable diets in Switzerland

Related Resources

Drivers and Barriers Toward Healthy and Environmentally Sustainable Eating in Switzerland: Linking Impacts to Intentions and Practices

Food consumption is among the activities with the most significant environmental impacts, and furthermore contributes to rising health costs. We explored the factors that foster or hinder healthy and sustainable eating in Switzerland. Based on an online household survey with 620 respondents, we first determined the disability adjusted life years and greenhouse gas impacts associated with individuals’ dietary habits to measure healthy and environmentally sustainable eating. We then relate the nutritional health and environmental impacts to individual’s intentions, and explore what interpersonal and societal factors foster or hinder healthy and sustainable eating. Results suggest that intentions for healthy eating are stronger than intentions to eat environmentally sustainable and that intentions for healthy eating transmit better into behavior than intentions for environmentally sustainable eating. Males and females had similar intentions but males showed substantially higher dietary related health impacts with 12 min of healthy life lost per day and 14% higher carbon footprint than females. Furthermore, vegan and vegetarian diets yielded very high nutritional health benefits of >23 min of healthy life gained per person and day, mostly realized through the reduced intake in processed and red meat and increased consumption of nuts, wholegrain, and to a lesser extent in fruits and vegetables. Meatless diets show concurrent high reductions in the carbon footprint of −42% for vegetarians and −67% for vegan. A key obstacle to healthier and more environmentally sustainable eating is that people do not recognize the high nutritional and environmental co benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. This suggests that policies promoting healthy eating can target factors affecting intentions, while measures targeting environmentally sustainable eating should aim at overcoming the intention behavior gap, by informing on e.g. the importance of reducing meat consumption toward environmental sustainability.