How the Nordic countries can lead global food transformation

The Nordic countries have some of the world’s best dietary guidelines; they are also forerunners in environmental policy, sustainable innovation and leadership. As such, these nations could well lead the way in making the global food system healthier and more sustainable. However, despite many positive aspects, diets in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland contribute to both public health concerns and a range of environmental issues. Roughly half their populations are overweight, diets are putting pressure on the environment and food waste is a critical problem.

Yet, the Nordics can build upon the many strengths of their food systems––including political commitment to develop food solutions, strict agricultural regulations and innovative solutions to societal challenges––to show the world that healthy and sustainable diets are within reach. These are some of the conclusions that researchers from Sweden and Austria drew in a report commissioned by Sweden’s National Food Agency. Published in March 2019, the report is the first regional assessment of the EAT-Lancet Commission’s proposed global targets for healthy diets and environmentally sustainable food production.

“Our report shows that the Nordics have incredible potential to become world leaders in truly healthy and sustainable food systems, but we are not there yet. There is still work to be done if the Nordics are to achieve our health and environmental goals,” says Amanda Wood, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the report’s lead author.

The report highlights several concrete examples of how the Nordic populations need to change what they eat.

  • Daily sugar intake is several teaspoons higher, and consumption of red meat 4.5 to 9 times higher than the EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations.
  • In 2014, only 13 per cent of the population consumed 500 grams of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • The consumption of legumes and nuts needs to increase.

The report also highlights the reasons why eating habits need to change. 

  • Half of the Nordic adults are above a healthy weight, and unhealthy diets are a leading driver of poor health in the region.
  • The average Nordic diet produces nearly three times the greenhouse gas emissions and uses nearly twice the land area recommended when compared to a downscaled EAT-Lancet target. 
  • Analyses from Norway indicate that a shift to more healthy diets could result in savings of approximately 16 billion EUR from accumulated health benefits, reduced health care costs and increased productivity.

“The changes we are calling for require food producers, retailers and governments to enable consumers to make healthier and more sustainable choices, halve our food loss and waste, and ensure that our production here and abroad meets environmental goals,” says co-author Line Gordon, director of Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

Photo: Hannah Griffiths-Berggren

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