Healthy, Sustainable Diets and Food Systems

Our research aims to understand the determinants, factors, and processes that comprise a sustainable diet in an era of economic growth, rising incomes, climate change, and dietary transitions. We also want to investigate how diets incorporate aspects of access and affordability of foods, environmental sustainability, and cultural acceptability. Lastly, our research is elucidating what composes a sustainable diet, how the level of sustainability is measured, and the impacts and tradeoffs involved in promoting sustainable diets at both the individual and population levels. A pilot study is focusing on Nepal.

Healthy and Sustainable Diets: Piloting Solutions for the Post 2015 Agenda

Jessica Fanzo and Shauna Downs

There is a need to reorient food systems around human health and nutrition, with a view towards environmental sustainability, and where accessible, culturally relevant and nutritionally adequate food is the norm. Projections for the next decade further strengthen the need to improve the quality and environmental sustainability of the diet, especially given the challenges imposed by climate change and increasing population growth with rising consumption of environment-costly animal source foods. Improving food and nutrition security requires an understanding of what is meant by sustainable diets for different populations and contexts, how these diets can be assessed within our global food system, and how we can achieve environmental sustainability in our consumption patterns and dietary goals. Systematic analyses of what constitutes healthy and sustainable food systems are virtually nonexistent with very few frameworks that integrate environment and diet.

We propose a new methodological framework that would allow for detailed analysis of the “sustainability” aspects related to nutrition of national food and agriculture policies. The approach will be done using four Asian country cases currently undergoing a transition in their food system (Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines and Timor Leste), and the results stemming from this research aims to identify leverage points where technology and policy interventions can be applied to reorient the food system towards healthy and sustainable diets. Data from Nepal and Timor Leste will be presented.

It is hoped that this methodology can be adapted to assess the policy levers for sustainable diets in specific local settings and diverse populations that are undergoing different transitions, at different scales. This assessment can then inform future policies and programmes and also the international dialogue around the Sustainable Development Goals.

Related Publications:

Downs, S., Payne, A., and Fanzo, J., 2017. The Development and Application of a Sustainable Diets Framework for Policy Analysis: A Case Study of Nepal. Food Policy 70: 40-49.

Herforth, A., Ahmed, S., Declerk, F., Fanzo, J., and Remans, R, 2017. “Creating Sustainable, Resilient Food Systems for Healthy Diets.” In United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition A Spotlight on the Nutrition Decade.

S. Downs, A. Payne, and H. Swartz. Enhancing Sustainable Diets with Data Collection and Policy Analysis. (2017) The Economist Intelligence Unit and Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition.

Downs, S., Payne, A., and Fanzo, J., 2017. The Development and Application of a Sustainable Diets Framework for Policy Analysis: A Case Study of Nepal. Food Policy 70: 40-49.

Identifying interventions to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainable oils in Myanmar

Shauna Downs

This research aims to use value chain analysis to identify interventions to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils in Myanmar. Value chain analysis of palm oil will be used to examine the drivers of the shift towards increased palm oil production in Myanmar and its associated nutritional, environmental and economic trade-offs. The project will address the following research questions using a combination of existing data and primary data collection in Myanmar:

  1. What are the existing incentives or disincentives for the production and consumption of palm oil? How do these incentives compare to other domestically produced oils?
  2. What are the policy levers or points for private sector innovation that could help realign future incentives towards the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils?

This research is solutions-oriented and intends to inform the development of interventions aimed at reorienting food system incentives towards the production and consumption of healthier and more environmentally sustainable edible oils.

EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health

Jessica Fanzo

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health recognizes that in order to improve human and planetary health, the food system must be transformed. The Commission investigates the challenging questions that prevent governments, businesses, and civil society actors from achieving success in this arena. These questions include:


1) What is a healthy diet?
2) What is a sustainable food system?
3) What are the trends shaping diets today?
4) Can we achieve healthy diets from sustainable food systems? How?
5) What are the solutions and policies we can apply?


Jessica Fanzo serves as part of the Commission’s Working Group 4, which demonstrates the impacts of diets. Working Group 4 will propose a range of diets that incorporate nutritional needs and planetary constraints.


The Commission’s report will be published by The Lancet in Spring 2018.


For more details, see the website for the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.

Climate Change and Nutrition

Jessica FanzoRebecca McLaren, and Claire Davis

The impacts of climate change threaten food security and nutrition outcomes, especially for vulnerable populations in the global South. It is critical that more attention be given to the intersection of climate change, food security, and nutrition. The relationship between climate and nutrition is bi-directional: climate acts as a driver of nutritional status, but diets also affect climate, as well as nutrition. This research was undertaken as part of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s G-CAN: Gender-Responsive and Climate-Resilient Agriculture for Nutrition project.

The final report, Climate Change and Variability: What are the Risks for Nutrition, Diets, and Food Systems?, uses a food-systems approach to analyze the pathways linking climate change and nutrition. Better understanding of these pathways is crucial to developing effective interventions that ensure the world’s population has access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

Related Publications:

Jessica Fanzo, Claire Davis, Rebecca McLaren, and Jowel Choufani. 2018. The effect of climate change across food systems: Implications for nutrition outcomes. Global Food Security.

Fanzo, J., McLaren, R., Davis, C., and Choufani, J. Climate Change and Variability: What are the Risks for Nutrition, Diets, and Food Systems? 2017. International Food Policy Research Institute.

J. Fanzo, R. McLaren, C. Davis, and J. Choufani. How to Ensure Nutrition for Everyone under Climate Change and Variability. (2017). Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN) Policy Note I.

C. Davis and J. Fanzo. The Challenge of our Lifetime: How to Ensure Nutrition for Everyone under Climate Change. (2017) International Food Policy Research Institute Blog.

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition 

Jessica Fanzo

At its 42nd session in October 2015, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) requested the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) prepare a report on food systems, diets, and nutrition that will be presented at CFS 44 in October 2017. The purpose of the report is to analyze how diets, nutrition, and health are influenced by food systems, specifically food supply chains, food environments, and consumer demand and behaviour. In addition, the report aims to identify effective policies and programs that can improve food systems and ensure that nutritious food is available and accessible in a way that is sustainable and protects the right to adequate food for all. This is highly relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2014 Rome Declaration on Nutrition, the subsequent Decade of Action for Nutrition, and the fulfilment of the right to adequate food and nutrition. To address the multiple burdens of stunting and wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity in the global population, policies and programs must operate via multiple sectors simultaneously, including agriculture, environment, health, water and sanitation, education, social protection, and gender.