Home Medizin Innovativer Indikator verfolgt die Auswirkungen der Ernährung auf Gesundheit und Umwelt

Innovativer Indikator verfolgt die Auswirkungen der Ernährung auf Gesundheit und Umwelt

von NFI Redaktion

To monitor and implement changes in the food system, it is important to understand how nutrition affects health and the environment.

A recent study proposed an indicator of the efficiency of health and the environment in order to assess how nutrition has supported a healthy life, environmental pollution, and resource consumption in 195 countries in the past.

Studie: Die Gesundheits-Umwelt-Effizienz von Diäten zeigt im Zeitraum 1990–2011 nichtlineare Trends.  Bildnachweis: Foxys Forest Manufacture/Shutterstock.com


The change in dietary habits for the benefit of health and to reduce harmful effects on the environment has become extremely important on the global political agenda.

Poor nutrition not only has negative effects on health, but can also lead to environmental damage through higher water consumption in production, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

To achieve sustainable development goals such as health and well-being and the elimination of hunger, it is essential to advocate for sustainable food consumption patterns.

Prior research has not fully examined the relationship between changes in socio-economic development and the environmental and health outcomes of nutrition.

About the Study

To address the above-mentioned gap in the literature, this study examined the environmental-health interactions of nutrition with socio-economic development for 195 countries.

The study sample was the period between 1990 and 2011. An indicator of the efficiency of health and the environment was created, which was the ratio between environmental impacts and health benefits resulting from food production and consumption.

The reduction of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) was an indicator of health benefits. DALY quantifies the years of healthy life lost due to nutrition-related disability or mortality.

Health-environmental efficiency was based on four indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, acidifying emissions, eutrophying emissions, and scarcity-weighted water withdrawal. Connections between these indicators and a country’s sociodemographic index (SDI) were identified.

The SDI is a concept related to the Human Development Index (HDI), except that the SDI does not consider direct health outcomes. This prevents confusion between results and determinants. In different socio-economic contexts, the SDI compares the health outcomes of different countries.

Study Results

In response to an increase in the SDI, a non-linear N-shaped response of health-environmental efficiency was observed. In other words, the correlation between the two variables was positive, negative, and positive.

The positive relationship in the first stage was due to the elimination of maternal and child malnutrition because of a higher food supply.

Conversely, the negative relationship in the second stage was due to negative environmental impacts resulting from a shift to less carbon-intensive products. The last phase of positive association in some industrialized countries was largely due to their shift to a healthier diet.

The proposed indicator is useful for integrating environmental and health impacts, whether contradictory or conforming.

The indicator is versatile and can be modified for a broader range of ecological concerns. Additionally, it can account for technological advancements and other dynamic factors that lead to temporal changes in environmental impacts.

Policymakers can use the health-environmental efficiency indicator to make cross-country comparisons and identify areas with improvement potential and best practices.

They can even use this indicator to evaluate the effectiveness of dietary trends and policy interventions in their own countries.

Countries should aim to transition to a healthier diet while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

Industrialized countries at the higher end of the SDI can follow Japan’s and Norway’s methods by simultaneously reducing meat consumption and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Other measures such as urban planning and guidance on dietary behavior through education are crucial for low- and middle-income countries.

Issues on the demand and supply sides may be difficult to change, especially when deeply rooted in specific physical and socio-economic contexts. However, urgent action is needed given the high medical costs associated with a fat- and meat-rich diet.

Study Limitations

The first limitation focuses on potential endogeneity problems in the regression analysis.

There were many observable and unobservable factors that could have influenced nutrition-related DALYs and environmental impacts.

Since environmental issues affect the SDI, there is also a possibility of reverse causality. A second limitation of the data used was the heterogeneity of production technologies in individual countries, making it difficult to assess regional differences in the environmental impacts of producing a specific food.

Due to better data availability, there was more information about developed countries. This could lead to a misjudgment of environmental impacts when applied globally.

However, the ranking of foods in terms of their environmental impact should remain the same in all regions.

This study also ignores the heterogeneity within the country by focusing on the national average of food consumption.

Journal Reference:

  • He, P., Liu, Z., Baiocchi, G., Guan, D., Bai, Y. & Hubacek, K. (2024) Gesundheits-Umwelt-Effizienz von Diäten zeigt nichtlineare Trends im Zeitraum 1990–2011. Naturnahrung. 1-9.doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-024-00924-z. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-024-00924-z

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