Good nutrition is essential for a healthy lifestyle — but is it possible for everyone?

Tim Lang, IOM

Tim Lang, a researcher from City University London, discussed challenges and possible solutions to sustainable nutrition in Europe on Wednesday at an Institute of Medicine conference. Photo by Daniel Greenberg/APHA

Food scientists from all over the world discussed the possibility of global, accessible diets at a forum in Washington, D.C., this week, hosted by the Institute of Medicineof the National Academies. The general consensus was that healthy food can exist worldwide, but policies must change to match current and emerging knowledge of environmental sustainability.

“A BMW car is now designed to be recycled. How do we apply that thinking to food?” asked Tim Lang, a researcher from City University London. “You’ve got to think in terms of a total environmental focus.”

Healthy food options have been complicated by political change in England, as its latest national food strategy does not necessarily reflect the views of the current government. According to Lang, Food2030 aims to achieve nationwide nutrition by creating a competitive food system and lowering carbon emissions. But it won’t work unless six criteria for sustainability are met:

  • food quality: including taste, seasonality;
  • social values: including equality, justice, animal welfare;
  • environment: including energy use, waste reduction;
  • health: including safety, nutrition, equal access;
  • economy: including affordability, efficiency, working conditions; and
  • governance: including science and technology evidence, democratic accountability.

This is achievable in the U.S., according to Katherine Clancy of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Jennifer Wilkins of Cornell University. Federal initiatives — such as Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which promotes healthier foods and obesity reduction, and Choosemyplate.gov, which offers tools to track weight management, physical activity and food intake — show progress.

There are major challenges — notably, sequestration’s threats to agriculture and a 5-year-old farm bill, while Wilkins said that advances must be made with natural resources such as water, air, soil and biodiversity.

“The assumption I think we all hold is that protection and resilience of these natural resources is a necessary condition for people to be healthy,” Wilkins said.