Food is critically important for our health but also has a major impact on the earth’s resources, the environment and on climate change.
A research project funded by Healthier Lives will investigate what the optimal diet would be to meet New Zealand population nutrition needs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at minimal additional cost to individuals.
The aim is to provide policymakers and health practitioners with information on how best to improve population diets to maximise net health and environmental co-benefits and to decrease health inequities in New Zealand.
The researchers will use epidemiological models to look at the effects of a healthy, sustainable diet and simulate policies that could help New Zealanders move towards this diet. The models will estimate the impact of healthy, sustainable diets on population health, ethnic health inequities, greenhouse gas emissions, and health sector cost savings.
Food for good health
“Major shifts are needed in what we eat if we are to achieve healthy diets that are also good for the environment,” says principal investigator Dr Cristina Cleghorn, from the University of Otago, Wellington.
Global research has shown that diets high in vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruit and low in animal sources of protein provide both health and environmental benefits. A healthy diet and healthy body weight are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
What’s less well known is what might be the optimal New Zealand diet for both health and environmental sustainability, and what kinds of policies could move us towards such a diet in New Zealand.
Substantially different outcomes in health are experienced between Māori and non-Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many health inequities may be partly due to differences in diet and lifestyle, so it is essential that any dietary interventions are acceptable and effective for all NZ population groups, especially Māori.
“As well as the modelling work, we will also consult with urban and rural Māori, policy makers, and the public to identify policies that are feasible to implement and acceptable to New Zealanders in order to increase the chances of these policies being adopted,” says Dr Cleghorn.
The new project, funded to the value of $671,790 over three years from July 2020, aligns with Healthier Lives Theme 1 (Healthy food and physical activity environments).