ArticlePDF Available

Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia


Abstract and Figures

Tackling the overconsumption of discretionary foods (foods and drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs) is central to aligning human and planetary health. Whilst the adverse health impacts of discretionary foods are well documented, the environmental and broader sustainability impacts of these products deserve more attention, especially since their consumption has been increasing in recent decades, particularly amongst low income groups. This paper presents a quantitative case study analysis of discretionary food consumption and the associated environmental impacts for households from different income groups in Australia. Environmentally extended input-output analysis is used to estimate the full life cycle environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption on the basis of household expenditures. On average, discretionary foods account for a significant 35%, 39%, 35% and 33% of the overall diet-related life cycle water use, energy use, carbon dioxide equivalent and land use respectively. These significant percentages provide further support for the need to incentivise diets that are both healthier and more sustainable, including ‘divestment’ from discretionary food products. The study highlights the challenges ahead, including the need for further research on food substitutions to minimise environmental and social impacts whilst maximising nutritional quality – especially amongst poorer socioeconomic groups.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary
food consumption in Australia
Tackling the overconsumption of discretionary foods (foods and drinks not necessary to provide
the nutrients the body needs) is central to aligning human and planetary health. Whilst the adverse
health impacts of discretionary foods are well documented, the environmental and broader
sustainability impacts of these products deserve more attention, especially since their consumption
has been increasing in recent decades, particularly amongst low income groups. This paper
presents a quantitative case study analysis of discretionary food consumption and the associated
environmental impacts for households from different income groups in Australia.
Environmentally extended input-output analysis is used to estimate the full life cycle
environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption on the basis of household expenditures.
On average, discretionary foods account for a significant 35%, 39%, 35% and 33% of the overall
diet-related life cycle water use, energy use, carbon dioxide equivalent and land use respectively.
These significant percentages provide further support for the need to incentivise diets that are both
healthier and more sustainable, including ‘divestment’ from discretionary food products. The
study highlights the challenges ahead, including the need for further research on food
substitutions to minimise environmental and social impacts whilst maximising nutritional quality
especially amongst poorer socioeconomic groups.
Sustainable diets; Discretionary consumption; Environmentally extended input-output analysis;
Sustainable food consumption; Food environmental impacts; Life cycle assessment
Word count: 6747 (excl. references and appendices)
Full article and supplementary material published online at:
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
1. Introduction
Western diets, typically high in energy but low in nutrients, have been linked to increased
incidence of obesity and chronic disease (Friel et al., 2014; Garnett, 2014b; Tilman and Clark, 2014).
At the same time, food production is responsible for up to 30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions (Tubiello et al., 2013) and an estimated 70% of global water withdrawals
(Pradhan et al., 2013). If current dietary trends continue unabated, public health costs are expected
to increase significantly (Keats and Wiggins, 2014; Wang et al., 2011), while the impact of
agriculture on the environment is set to intensify (Gerbens-Leenes and Nonhebel, 2002; Hedenus et
al., 2014; Keyzer et al., 2005; Odegard and van der Voet, 2014).
National dietary health guidelines are increasingly making explicit reference to the importance of
eating sustainably as well as healthily (Health Council of the Netherlands, 2011; Monteiro et al.,
2015; Swedish National Food Agency, 2015), and the medical and public health fields are
embracing the importance of environmentally sustainable diets (Demaio and Rockström, 2015;
Lawrence et al., 2015a). The consensus is that, given the crucial role of food in providing nutrients,
nutritional quality should be seen as a core component of food system sustainability (Lukas et al.,
2015; Nemecek et al., 2016; Röös et al., 2015).
A necessary dietary modification which has unquestionably received the most attention in
academic, policy and media circles is the need to limit consumption of animal products, especially
red meat (Hedenus et al., 2014; Keyzer et al., 2005; Macdiarmid, 2013; Röös et al., 2015;
Springmann et al., 2016). Animal-derived foods generally have a higher total environmental
footprint than plant foods, owing to the significant amounts of land, water and feed required by
livestock (Gerbens-Leenes and Nonhebel, 2002; Goodland, 1997; Westhoek et al., 2014; White,
2000). Additionally, enteric methane from ruminants accounts for a substantial 14.5% of total
global GHG emissions from all sources (Gerber et al., 2013). Livestock production has also been
linked to soil and water quality impairment, atmospheric pollution, and loss of biodiversity, all of
which carry significant economic and social costs (Pretty et al., 2001). High levels of red meat
consumption, especially in its processed forms, have been correlated with cardiovascular disease
and certain cancers (Bouvard et al., 2015; Pan et al., 2012). Reducing red meat consumption thus
presents a double dividend to both human and environmental health. Since all types of animal
protein tend to have a comparatively high environmental footprint, smaller meat portion sizes,
taxes on meat and promoting vegetarian alternatives have all been proposed as solutions (de Boer
et al., 2014; Hedenus et al., 2014).
While the higher environmental footprint of meat consumption vis-à-vis other foods is undeniable,
I argue that focusing only on reducing meat consumption obscures a more fundamental distinction
in the environmental impacts of our dietary choices: between what is discretionary and non-
discretionary. Previous studies have considered the environmental implications of discretionary
consumption of goods and services (Druckman and Jackson, 2010; Sanne, 2002) and the use of
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
discretionary time (Chai et al., 2015; Druckman et al., 2012) but the dietary aspect of discretionary
consumption is still understudied
Discretionary foods are described in the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs) as: “foods and
drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs, but that may add variety. Many of
these are high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol... They can be included sometimes in
small amounts by those who are physically active, but are not a necessary part of the diet”
(NHMRC, 2013, p.144). Food types that fall into this category include cakes and biscuits;
confectionary and chocolate; pastries and pies; ice confections, butter, cream, and spreads which
contain predominantly saturated fats; processed meats and fattier/salty sausages; potato chips,
crisps and other fatty or salty snack foods; sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and
energy drinks and alcoholic drinks (ABS, 2014b; NHMRC, 2013). By contrast, non-discretionary (or
core) foods are those recognised as belonging to the core food groups: fruit, vegetables, cereals,
legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy and fresh meat.
The medical and public health literature has shown that higher consumption of discretionary
foods is conclusively linked to higher incidences of overweight/obesity and non-communicable
diseases (NCDs) (Cohen et al., 2010; Friel et al., 2014; Johnson et al., 2011; Monteiro et al., 2011;
Moodie et al., 2013). Indeed, the negative impact of meat consumption on human health is more
strongly correlated with the discretionary consumption of processed meat than with unprocessed
meat (Micha et al., 2012). However, as Carlsson-Kanyama et al. (2003), Pearson et al. (2014) and
Friel et al. (2014) argue, the environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption have been
largely ignored. These impacts are potentially significant, and potentially avoidable: discretionary
food is largely considered superfluous to nutritional requirements (if dietary intake is above
adequate), and could in many cases be eliminated from diets without substitution of other
products thus avoiding negative rebound
effects in terms of environmental or nutrition impact,
as seen in some studies when meat consumption is reduced (Heller and Keoleian, 2015; Tukker et
al., 2011; Vieux et al., 2012). A complicating factor which needs to be considered is the
socioeconomic context of discretionary food consumption and its relation to environmental
impact, especially given that poorer socioeconomic groups tend to obtain a higher proportion of
their dietary energy from these foods (Darmon and Drewnowski, 2008; Serra-Majem et al., 2004;
Thorpe et al., 2016).
While the policy focus to date has been on curbing current meat consumption trends, a reduction
in the production and consumption of discretionary foods should be seen as a key complementary
sustainability priority - one that potentially allows for a more nuanced understanding of dietary
Rebound refers to cases where the environmental gains arising due to altered consumption behaviour (for
example, eating less discretionary food) could be offset by increased consumption of other items or activities
(not necessarily food-related) with a potentially higher environmental impact (Hertwich, 2005).
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
choices. Amidst the complexity of composite health and sustainability indicators (Drewnowski et
al., 2015; Lukas et al., 2015; Röös et al., 2015) and public reluctance to reduce meat consumption
(Lea and Worsley, 2008; Macdiarmid et al., 2016), the discretionary versus non-discretionary
argument can provide a simplifying health-driven conceptual framework that challenges the
current food production and consumption system by re-emphasising non-discretionary food
The aim of this paper is to quantify the share of food-related environmental impacts associated
with discretionary foods across several key environmental indicators and for different
socioeconomic groups, and to discuss the implications of these results in the context of promoting
healthier and more sustainable diets for all. Section 2 provides a review of available literature on
the drivers of discretionary food consumption along with estimates of their environmental
impacts. In Section 3, data from Australia are used to estimate the share of dietary energy intake,
expenditure and environmental impact associated with discretionary foods. The paper concludes
(Sections 4 and 5) by reiterating the urgency of treating the issue of unsustainable food
consumption in a manner that addresses the underlying causes, one of which is the proliferation of
discretionary food.
2. Discretionary food consumption drivers and impacts
2.1 Use of the term ‘discretionary food’
In this study I have adopted the term ‘discretionary foods’ because it aligns with the economic
concept of discretionary consumption, thus emphasising that the consumption of these foods
should, in principle, be seen as both nutritionally and environmentally superfluous.
‘Discretionary’ food is a concept that is increasingly used in the public health literature (An, 2015;
Barosh et al., 2014; Cohen et al., 2010; Friel et al., 2014; Watson et al., 2016), although ‘non-core’
food is also used (Hendrie et al., 2014; Johnson et al., 2011; McGowan et al., 2012), as is the more
colloquial term ‘junk food’ (Pearson et al., 2014; Popkin et al., 2012; Pretty et al., 2015), although
there are some subtle differences as some discretionary products like butter or cream are not
commonly considered junk foods. There is also a significant overlap between discretionary foods
and ‘ultra-processed’ foods, defined as hyper-palatable, cheap, ready-to-consume food products
made from processed substances extracted or refined from whole foods (Monteiro et al., 2011;
Monteiro et al., 2013; Moodie et al., 2013).
2.2 Drivers of discretionary food consumption
There are several reasons why discretionary foods, despite their obvious health impacts, are
widely consumed around the world. The first is their intense palatability, owing to a high fat,
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
sugar, and/or salt content, which impairs endogenous satiety mechanisms (Monteiro et al., 2013;
Moodie et al., 2013; Popkin et al., 2012). When consumed in moderation, certain discretionary
foods can often be associated with pleasure and comfort and can even have cultural importance
(Garnett, 2014b). However, the proportion of daily calories derived from discretionary foods in
many developed and rapidly developing economies suggests that their consumption is excessive
and difficult to curtail.
Most discretionary foods are also aggressively promoted to consumers (Hawkes, 2006; Kearney,
2010; Monteiro et al., 2011). This is mainly due to their high degree of profitability which,
according to both Albritton (2009) and Carolan (2011), tends to be positively correlated to the
amount of processing. It is therefore unsurprising that food manufacturers, fast food chains and
supermarkets are actively promoting highly-processed discretionary food items through
advertising campaigns and special deals, often targeting lower socioeconomic areas and,
increasingly, consumers in the developing world (Darmon and Drewnowski, 2008; Stanton, 2015).
Discretionary foods also provide a seemingly affordable and convenient option for consumers. In
many cases discretionary foods may even displace core foods, leading to nutrient deficiencies,
overweight and other health problems (Friel et al., 2014). This is becoming increasingly common
with evidence suggesting that the cost of wholesome food has been increasing at a faster rate than
that of processed food in high income countries like the US and the UK as well as in transitioning
economies such as Brazil, Mexico and China (Keats and Wiggins, 2014; Monsivais et al., 2010).
Discretionary foods are thus more readily consumed by poorer socioeconomic groups (Barosh et
al., 2014; Dixon and Isaacs, 2013). The problem of cost is often compounded by a lack of available
time to prepare nutritious meals (Jabs and Devine, 2006; Welch et al., 2009).
I therefore argue that many foods classified as discretionary in a nutritional sense (especially
processed meats and dairy products) are no longer discretionary for people who cannot afford
healthier non-discretionary options, or who have become conditioned to a lifestyle where the taste
and convenience that comes with those discretionary food options has become the norm. This
raises challenging environmental and social equity considerations which are discussed later on in
the context of the Australian case study.
2.3 Evidence of environmental impacts of discretionary food choices
Unlike for core food products, there appears to be a real paucity of specialised environmental life-
cycle assessment (LCA) studies for discretionary products. The high degree of processing and
packaging associated with most discretionary food products suggests that their environmental
impacts are not negligible (Bradbear and Friel, 2011; Friel et al., 2014; Pimentel et al., 2008; Sage,
2012). The limited available quantitative evidence is still sufficient to suggest that discretionary
foods may have significant and diverse environmental impacts.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
In an LCA study based on food diary data from ten Swedish households, Carlsson-Kanyama et al.
(2003) found that desserts like cakes, chocolate and ice cream and beverages like soft drinks and
alcoholic drinks accounted for up to one third of total life cycle energy embedded in food, with
larger life cycle energy inputs on a per portion basis than the majority of fruits, vegetables and
grains. Chocolate even had comparable or higher life cycle energy inputs than some of the meat
and fish products considered in the study. A recent LCA study from Switzerland also concluded
that milk chocolate is a product with a considerable environmental impact (3.5% of total food-
related impact for Swiss consumers) (Jungbluth and König, 2014). According to Pimentel et al.
(2008), a hypothetical reduction of junk food intake from the current US level of 33% down to 10%
would conserve significant amounts of energy, and improve health. In Australia, recent estimates
show that non-core foods contribute about 27% of total food-related GHG emissions (Hendrie et
al., 2014).
Blair and Sobal (2006) use the term ‘luxus consumption’ to refer to consumption beyond metabolic
needs. They estimate that up to 18% of available food in the US food system can be considered
luxus consumption. This equates to an ecological footprint of 0.36 ha of farm land and ocean per
person, which is more than the total per capita ecological footprint in a developing country like
Bangladesh. Using carbonated beverages as an example (a prime example of a discretionary food
item), the authors calculate that the luxus consumption of 31.8 litres per capita per year of
sweetened soda required vast amounts of land, energy, fertiliser and pesticides to produce the
corn used to make high-fructose corn syrup, in addition to the considerable energy cost for plastic
used for bottling the beverages
The handful of studies mentioned here quantify the environmental impacts of discretionary food
intake as a side issue, and focus solely on energy and GHG implications (Carlsson-Kanyama et al.,
2003; Hendrie et al., 2014; Pimentel et al., 2008). In reality, the diversity of discretionary foods
means that specific products may have very different impact intensities across different
environmental indicators. There thus remain important knowledge gaps in this area, especially
with regards to non-energy or GHG-related environmental impacts associated with the full supply
chain (including production, processing, packaging, transport and marketing) of discretionary
foods, and how these compare to the environmental impacts of non-discretionary food products.
The current study contributes towards addressing these gaps by employing large datasets from
recent nutrition and household expenditure surveys in Australia, along with a nutritionally
recognised definition of discretionary foods.
3. Estimating the environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption: an
Australian case study
In another study, Jungbluth et al. (2012) find that soft drinks and alcoholic beverages contribute about 18%
to nutrition-related total life cycle environmental impact.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
3.1 Overview of data and approach
Australia offers an ideal case study because it is a country where high discretionary food
consumption is of particular concern as, along with physical inactivity, it is the main driver of
increasing rates of obesity and NCDs (NHMRC, 2015; Thorpe et al., 2016). 63% of Australians are
now classified as overweight or obese, with health problems due to excess weight imposing a
substantial economic burden on individuals, families and the health system (Colagiuri et al., 2010).
The latest Australian Health Survey (AHS) introduced an approach to distinguish between
discretionary and non-discretionary foods across all food products and categories (ABS, 2014a).
The case study uses both publicly available and privately-tailored food intake datasets from the
latest editions of the AHS (ABS, 2014b, 2015b) and the Australian Household Expenditure Survey
(HES) (ABS, 2011) to identify the nature of discretionary dietary intake across major demographic,
socioeconomic and geographic segments of the population. Combining the two different dietary
datasets from the AHS and HES by weighting the contribution of dietary energy across individual
food groups and cross-tabulating across different demographic and socioeconomic groups, allows
for the determination of dietary energy intake from discretionary and non-discretionary foods (see
section 3.2). Following a similar procedure to determine discretionary and non-discretionary
shares from the HES subsequently allows for the calculation of environmental impacts of
discretionary foods purchased by each of the five household income quintiles (see section 3.3).
The environmental intensities (impact per dollar) of the life cycle of selected food groups,
including CO2 equivalent (an indicator of global warming potential), water use (an indicator of
pressure on water resources), ecological footprint (an established footprint indicator which
aggregates different land uses such as cropland, grazing land, fishing ground, forest land, carbon
uptake land, and built-up land into global hectares - see Wackernagel et al., 1999; Wackernagel and
Rees, 1998) and life cycle energy use
, are calculated using the Eora multi-regional environmentally
extended input-output (EEIO) model (Lenzen et al., 2012; Lenzen et al., 2013). EEIO models are a
commonly used top-down LCA approach ideally suited to estimating environmental impacts
associated with food and other types of expenditure (Duchin, 2005; Reynolds et al., 2015; Tukker et
al., 2011). The advantage of multi-regional EEIO analysis is that it directly relates expenditure on
specific products to total life cycle environmental impact, including all inputs and imports in the
supply chain. An additional advantage of performing the environmental impact analysis using
consumer expenditure is that the footprint results also capture waste (as they include the
environmental impact of all food purchased by a household, including what will eventually be
wasted). (see SI sections 1.1-1.8 for detailed methodology, calculations, assumptions, uncertainty
and limitations).
This refers to the energy embedded in the production and supply of a good and is different to the total
dietary energy intake presented in Figures 1&2, which is the energy ingested when products are consumed.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
3.2 Discretionary energy intake across population segments
Figure 1 shows the percentage of dietary energy intake from discretionary foods in relation to total
dietary intake across a number of different population groups, as compared to the age-weighted
average (35.4%) for an Australian resident. There is a high discretionary energy intake across all
population groups, ranging from 32.6% for adult women to 38.6% for boys. There are also
differences between income groups, with the lowest (35%) and highest (34%) income quintiles
having below average percentage discretionary energy intakes, whereas the other three income
quintiles registered above average discretionary food percentages (35.9%-36.8%). There is also a
considerable difference between people residing in the capital cities (34%) compared to those
living in smaller cities and rural areas (38.3%). These findings are consistent with previous studies
reporting that lower socioeconomic groups and people from rural or more remote areas of
Australia tend to obtain more of their dietary energy from discretionary foods (AIHW, 2012;
Barosh et al., 2014; Thorpe et al., 2016), although the exception in this case appears to be the lowest
income quintile which tends to have less than average percentage contribution from discretionary
foods. Any consideration of environmental impacts and pro-health and environment dietary
modifications must thus be sensitive to socioeconomic variables. The following analysis
concentrates on differences between income quintile groups (results for other population groups
are available in the SI).
It is important to note that it is commonly accepted that survey participants tend to under-report
their food intake. In the AHS this has been estimated to be around 17% for men and 21% for
women (and likely to be considerably higher for overweight and obese individuals), with
discretionary foods being particularly sensitive to under-reporting because of a general awareness
of socially acceptable or desirable dietary patterns (ABS, 2014a, 2015a). Therefore, both the total
energy intake and the share of discretionary food presented in Figure 1 are most likely to be
underestimates. This study does not account for the levels of physical activity which may also vary
between population groups. While recommended dietary energy intakes vary depending on the
level of physical activity, and energy intake alone may not be an adequate indicator of dietary
quality, the main purpose of the results presented in Figure 1 and Figure 2 is to illustrate the share
of discretionary/non-discretionary foods which is independent of the level of physical activity.
This is subsequently used to determine expenditure shares for the purpose of computing
environmental impacts (Figure 3). Any detailed nutrition advice would need to consider all these
factors, and is outside the scope of the current study.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Figure 1. Percentage discretionary dietary intake in relation to reported energy intake for different
demographic, socioeconomic and geographic segments of the Australian population
(Source: author's calculations based on ABS, 2014b; ABS, 2015b) .
Figure 2 shows the contribution of major food categories to discretionary energy intake for selected
income quintile groups (for age/gender groups and geographic groups see SI section 2). Baked
goods, confectionery and condiments account for the majority of energy intake from discretionary
foods, followed by alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, meat and dairy. Considering the relative
caloric contribution of food groups as illustrated in Figure 2 is an important first step to pinpoint
the areas of concern for each population group being considered. It appears that, even though
overall discretionary energy shares for different income groups vary (see Figure 1), the provenance
of that energy tends to be very similar, with the majority of discretionary energy contribution
coming from products belonging to the same food groups. However, this is not necessarily the
case from an environmental perspective, especially since discretionary foods can be energy-dense
even in small quantities. Environmental impact is thus commonly estimated by employing either
quantities (grams) or monetary units ($). The solution proposed here is to use food expenditure
estimates from the Australian HES (ABS, 2014a), as they are consistent with EEIO analysis. The
HES contains expenditure across 594 products, including 126 individual food items. On the basis
of the official health survey classification (ABS, 2014a), each of the HES food items were classified
as discretionary or non-discretionary. Expenditure was then aggregated to the Eora Australian
input-output food classification, which comprises 33 food product sectors for which environmental
intensities per dollar have been calculated using EEIO (see SI section 1.5 and SI datasets for step-
by-step methodology).
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000 10000
Lowest income quintile
2nd income quintile
3rd income quintile
4th income quintile
Highest income quintile
Capital cities
Other cities & rural areas
Boys (aged 2-18)
Men (aged 19+)
Girls (aged 2-18)
Women (aged 19+)
Mean daily dietary energy intake (kJ)
Discretionary energy Non-discretionary energy
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Figure 2. Discretionary and non-discretionary daily per capita dietary energy intake as reported by gross income quintiles
(ALC = alcohol, BAKE = baked goods, BEV = beverages, CER = cereals, CON = confectionary and condiments).
(Source: author's calculations based on ABS, 2014b; ABS, 2015b)
Energy (kJ)
(a) Lowest income quintile
Energy (kJ)
(c) Third income quintile
Energy (kJ)
(e) Highest income quintile
Energy (kJ)
(b) Second income quintile
Energy (kJ)
(d) Fourth income quintile
Energy (kJ)
(f) Average
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption
in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
3.3 Household expenditure and environmental impact estimates
Figure 3a shows average food expenditure across the main food groups from Figure 2. Alcohol
(ALC) and condiments & confectionery (CON) account for the majority of discretionary food
expenditure, followed by baked products (BAKE), non-alcoholic beverages (BEV) and meat
(MEAT). These are the same product groups responsible for the majority of dietary energy intake
(see Figure 2), implying a degree of consistency between the AHS and the HES, although
comparing the ‘Average’ dietary energy intake profile in Figure 2 to Figure 3(a) shows that
expenditure is higher for groups that have a relatively lower contribution to dietary energy intake,
notably alcohol.Figure 3b shows the calculated environmental impact shares of discretionary and
non-discretionary food across all four environmental indicators. Discretionary food consumption
accounts for 39% of total food-related life cycle energy use, 35% of water use, 35% of the ecological
footprint, and 33% of food-related GHG emissions. The reason for these differences lies in the
share of expenditure across food products (shown in Figure 3a) in relation to environmental
impact intensities per food product (see Table A1). The GHG percentage (33%) is slightly higher
than the 27% for non-core foods calculated by Hendrie et al. (2014), who used a previous edition of
the Australian national nutrition survey from 1995. The life cycle energy percentage (39%) is also
slightly higher than the 33% previously calculated by Carlsson-Kanyama et al. (2003) for Sweden.
The high contribution of discretionary food products to life cycle energy use is however consistent
with supply chains of processed foods requiring considerable energy inputs (Jungbluth et al., 2012;
Pimentel et al., 2008; Reynolds et al., 2015). No previous study has estimated the ecological
footprint or water use associated with discretionary or non-core foods, therefore direct
comparisons are not possible.
Figure 3c provides a more detailed illustration of the contribution to environmental impact from
different discretionary food groups. Processed meats (MEAT) and condiments & confectionery
(CON) appear to dominate environmental impacts across all four indicators, with fairly significant
contributions also coming from baked goods (BAKE) and alcohol (ALC). Processed meats
contribute most substantially to CO2-e (15%) and ecological footprint (17%), owing to high GHG
emissions and land use embedded in meat supply chains, consistent with previous studies
reviewed in Section 1. On the other hand, condiments & confectionery (14%), alcohol (7%) and
baked products (4%) contribute most substantially to life cycle energy use, together adding up to
one quarter of all total food-related life cycle energy use. This is consistent with earlier findings by
Carlsson-Kanyama et al. (2003). The other category (ALL OTHER) only has a significant
contribution (7%) to water use, mainly as a result of high irrigation demands for fruit and
vegetables in Australia (Reynolds et al., 2015).
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
35% 39% 35% 33%
Water Life cycle
energy Ecological
Footprint CO2-e
Environmental impact share
b. Environmental impacts
Non-discretionary Discretionary
Weekly expenditure (2010 US$)
a. Expenditure
Non-discretionary Discretionary
Water Life cycle energy Ecological
Footprint CO2-e
Environmental impact share
c. Discretionary food environmental impacts
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
3.4 Socioeconomic considerations - elimination or substitution?
‘Trimming the excess’ (complete elimination without any substitution) of discretionary food
expenditure is likely to be an option for many individuals in Australia, especially amongst
higher income groups where dietary energy intake is higher than the average recommended
level of 8700 kJ per day (NHMRC, 2013) . Table 1 displays the environmental impact
contribution from discretionary foods and how this varies across high and low income groups
as well as across impact categories. Energy, CO2 and water results for the average household
are consistent with previous Australian studies (Hendrie et al., 2014; Reynolds et al., 2015). The
highest income quintile has, in absolute terms, significantly higher discretionary spending and
total environmental impact across all indicators (see Table 1 and Table A2). This is despite
having lower dietary energy intake percentages from discretionary food (as seen in Figure 1).
The most fundamental difference in environmental impact shares across income groups is the
higher percentage on alcohol, which, depending on the impact category, accounts for 6.1% -
9.1% of total environmental impact for the highest income group (see Table 1). Table A2
highlights the important contribution of alcohol consumption to food expenditure, especially
amongst the high income groups. Previous research from Europe also suggests that the
environmental impacts of alcohol consumption can be considerable due to bottling, packaging,
refrigeration and transport (Carlsson-Kanyama et al., 2003; Garnett, 2007; Jungbluth et al., 2012)
For higher income groups, the priority should be to eliminate excess consumption of
discretionary foods such as alcohol, processed meats, baked goods and confectionery. From
Figure 1 it would appear that many men aged 19+ and individuals in the higher income groups
are likely to have higher than recommended desirable estimated energy requirement (DEER),
especially when under-reporting is accounted for, although this will also depend on age, sex,
and physical activity levels (NHMRC, 2005). A reduction in total caloric intake would be in line
with previous recommendations for reducing surplus energy intake in the Australian
population (Friel et al., 2014; Hendrie et al., 2014; Reynolds et al., 2015). From an environmental
perspective, the only risk of dietary elimination is a rebound effect, if money saved from food
reduction is then used to purchase more environmentally intensive products or services, but
this risk is negligible given that discretionary foods are generally superfluous and will not
require substitution at least for higher income groups.
Reducing discretionary consumption for lower income groups would present a more significant
challenge, especially where iso-caloric substitutions may be required to maintain an adequate
energy intake and to boost nutrition quality. It is generally known that the intake of fruit and
vegetables amongst the Australian population is far below recommended levels (ABS, 2014a).
Shifting spending away from discretionary food choices such as processed meats or
confectionery and bakery products towards non-discretionary equivalents such as fresh meat
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
and bread presents a win-win situation (as shown by lower environmental intensities in Table
A2). This is compatible with previous single-indicator studies on energy (Carlsson-Kanyama et
al., 2003) and GHG emissions (Hendrie et al., 2014; Macdiarmid et al., 2012). Reductions in
processed meat expenditure, currently accounting for a significantly higher percentage of
environmental impact amongst lower income groups, offer an obvious reduction in
environmental impact, with positive health impacts as well (Bouvard et al., 2015). Reduction of
processed meat could present a potential challenge where this constitutes an affordable source
of protein that is actually consumed as a core food vegetal protein may be an obvious
substitute in an environmental sense but this may be less socially or culturally acceptable for
many households (Lea et al., 2006; Macdiarmid et al., 2016).
However, when spending is shifted from baked goods and confectionary towards fruit and/or
vegetables, or from processed fruits and vegetables towards fresh produce, environmental
impacts could increase for indicators other than energy (unprocessed fruit and vegetables
actually have higher environmental intensities per dollar, as can be seen in Table A1). This
result is not consistent across all indicators when environmental intensity is compared per 100g
of product instead of per dollar. These findings are in line with previous studies which have
shown that shifts towards healthier diets do not always result in lower footprints (Heller and
Keoleian, 2015; Macdiarmid, 2013; Tilman and Clark, 2014; Vieux et al., 2012). They also
highlight how the choice of functional unit can impact on findings and recommendations
(Drewnowski et al., 2015; Masset et al., 2015). It is beyond the current scope to explore
substitutions considering multiple functional units or nutrient density indicators, although this
is acknowledged as an important avenue for further research (Nemecek et al., 2016). The study
has nevertheless gone further than previous EEIO studies in this respect by employing
weighted average state and national prices to calculate environmental intensity per dollar as
well as per 100g of product (see Table A1 and SI dataset 2 for conversions and assumptions).
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Table 1. Food-related environmental impacts calculated using EEIO on the basis of household
expenditure showing contribution from discretionary foods for selected socioeconomic groups (ALL
OTHER = sum of vegetables, fruit, fish and OTHER).
Total impact (per household per week)
Highest income quintile
Total food-related impact
Discretionary impact
% Discretionary
Lowest income quintile
Total food-related impact
Discretionary impact
% Discretionary
Average household
Total food-related impact
Discretionary impact
% Discretionary
4. Discussion
4.1 Global relevance of findings and research gaps
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Notwithstanding the need for further research, the case study demonstrates that in a developed
western economy like Australia, discretionary food intake and expenditure is significant across
all population groups. Furthermore, this high discretionary food consumption not only has
adverse health implications, but also results in significant environmental impacts. These
findings are highly relevant to many other developed countries, particularly the US, the UK,
Canada and New Zealand, as well as many middle income and developing economies like
China, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil as they transition away from traditional diets (Monteiro
et al., 2013; Popkin et al., 2012; Temple and Steyn, 2011; Tilman and Clark, 2014; Wilson et al.,
For the majority of consumers, taste, cost and convenience are seen as more important than
nutritional concerns, with environmental impact an even lower priority (Glanz et al., 1998; Jabs
and Devine, 2006; Welch et al., 2009). Encouraging dietary shifts away from discretionary food
choices is highly challenging because of the cheapness, palatability and convenience of these
products. If an identical sum of money currently being spent on discretionary food was to be
used to purchase non-discretionary food, especially fresh produce, it would likely yield
significantly less caloric energy and would appear to present less value for money. Even though
this may be desirable in many cases where overweight and obesity is an issue, it is still likely to
represent an unpopular choice for lower income consumers. Economic incentives such as
taxation of foods high in sugar, fat and salt, along with redistributing that revenue by
subsidising healthier food choices (with extra incentives given for products with lower
environmental intensities) for lower income groups, are a possible solution (Hendrie et al.,
2014; Temple and Steyn, 2011; Wilson et al., 2013).
The case study also highlights the need for developing bespoke healthy and sustainable dietary
recommendations for diverse population segments. Although the strong demographic,
socioeconomic and cultural gradients in food consumption are well understood in the fields of
public health and nutrition (Barosh et al., 2014; Drewnowski et al., 2015; Pretty et al., 2015),
there is still a lack of research in the environmental sustainability field explicitly modelling food
choice and necessary substitutions at the sub-national or societal level, with the majority of
studies considering national-scale scenarios, based mostly on shifts to vegetarian diets.
Evidence points towards health incentives providing a much stronger impetus for change
amongst consumers as compared to environmental concerns (Hoek et al., 2014). A detailed
substitution simulation involving a behavioural model of diet choice and recommended
substitutions catering for the macro- and micro- nutrient intake needs of different age groups is
outside the scope of the present study but represents a worthwhile future research avenue. A
challenge is to ensure equitable outcomes across socioeconomic groups in a way that puts less
pressure on families living on low incomes to make pro-environmental choices but to focus
instead on improving their nutrition.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
For this reason, future studies could also consider the extent to which more affluent consumers
in the developed world could reduce their consumption of discretionary foods such that the
environmental impact of poorer families shifting from discretionary to more healthy
consumption (including increased animal protein where necessary) is offset. If less
discretionary food is produced, this means either that more raw ingredients such as grains and
dairy are available in their more nutritious non-discretionary forms, or that less agricultural
production needs to take place, both potentially resulting in reduced environmental impacts.
It should be noted that negative economic side-effects on processed food supply chains for
products like chocolate and cane sugar may end up disproportionately impacting livelihoods of
lower income workers in both the developed and developing world (Garnett, 2014b). Although
this could be offset by positive economic impacts on the health system through reduced
availability of energy-dense obesogenic products, equitable redistribution of these gains should
be seen as a research and policy priority. Today, more than ever, policymakers, researchers and
consumers alike are often overwhelmed by the complexity of health, economic, social and
environmental sustainability implications when it comes to food choices (Garnett et al., 2015;
Hindley, 2015; Lawrence et al., 2015a). Even an obvious win-win situation in terms of health
and environmental sustainability may have other repercussions, including rebounds, which
need to be quantified, understood and managed. Furthermore, uncertainty in environmental
impact intensities from LCA-based studies remains an important issue, due to errors in input
data, and differences in the choice of system boundary and functional unit (Hallström et al.,
2015; Masset et al., 2015; Nemecek et al., 2016; Vieux et al., 2012).
4.2 Policy implications - treating the symptoms or the cause?
Whilst it is evident that more research is required to comprehensively assess the life cycle
impacts of different types of discretionary foods vis-à-vis core foods, this paper has argued that
distinguishing between discretionary and non-discretionary foods should be seen as essential to
the notion of food system sustainability. Any food system that uses scarce resources to produce
food that not only fails to nourish us properly, but also harms our health and degrades our
environment, cannot be considered sustainable. Even where highly processed discretionary
food products have a comparatively low footprint or long shelf lives, or have highly efficient
supply chains owing to large economies of scale, I argue that they still represent a largely
unjustifiable use of scarce planetary resources, as they offer little nutritional value in return.
As with most environmental and sustainability problems, developing policy solutions is
fraught with challenges and dilemmas, especially when, as in the case of the food system, there
is a need to address immediate issues such as obesity and environmental degradation, whilst
pursuing more viable and sustainable solutions in the form of systemic change. This is
essentially what Garnett (2014a) advocates through a combination of efficiency, demand
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
restraint and system transformation or what Lawrence et al. (2015b) refer to as different orders
of change. At the heart of the more systemic, holistic solutions lies the need to challenge the
premise of food corporations operating on the sole basis of profit maximisation (iPES-Food,
2016; Lawrence et al., 2015a; Pretty et al., 2015). Central to this argument is the need to question
the mass production and proliferation of discretionary foods and the continued targeted
marketing of lower socioeconomic groups and children (Hawkes, 2006; Stanton, 2015).
Consumer-oriented policies such as promoting behavioural change through taxes, ‘nudging’,
nutrition labelling, and better consumer education are all potential ways to address the
symptoms and should certainly be employed. Dietary guidelines should also emphasise the
context of preparing, valuing and enjoying food (Monteiro et al., 2015). Nevertheless, the
proliferation of discretionary food highlights the need to address the root causes through
appropriate government policy and regulation whilst also actively engaging with the food
industry (Hawkes, 2006; Hindley, 2015; Schröder, 2013). A general call for ‘divestment’ away
from such food products, that are harmful to health and create an unnecessary burden on the
environment and the health system, should be promoted as a more sustainable business model.
Such a model would be more compatible with a society and economic system that prioritises
human wellbeing and the health of the environment (Jackson, 2009; Pretty et al., 2015; Victor,
5. Conclusion
This article has argued that reducing the production and consumption of discretionary food
products should be seen as a crucial step towards aligning human and planetary health and
creating a more sustainable food system, one which should be promoted alongside reductions
in animal protein consumption. Although their adverse health impacts are well documented,
discretionary foods have significant environmental impacts that are yet to be fully understood
or quantified. Findings in this paper suggest that discretionary foods account for a significant
percentage of food-related environmental impacts across different socioeconomic groups in
Australia. This is likely to be similar in other developed countries, and increasingly in
developing countries transitioning away from traditional diets. A more sustainable food system
should be one where discretionary products are seen strictly as occasional treats rather than
accounting for such a significant percentage of our daily food intake, household expenditure
and diet-related environmental impact. Expending significant amounts of energy and
environmental resources to create large amounts of profitable but highly discretionary and
often unhealthy products should be seen as fundamentally unsustainable for our future,
especially when faced with the challenge of achieving global food security for a larger future
population. Future research and modelling must ensure that measures to encourage elimination
or, where necessary, substitution with non-discretionary foods, remain equitable, in line with
nutritional guidelines, and account for potential environmental trade-offs and rebounds.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
The research was enabled by funding from the Australian Academy of Science through its WH
Gladstone Population and Environment Fund Grant. The author also acknowledges the
Australian Bureau of Statistics for their invaluable data contribution.
ABS, 2011. Australian Household Expenditure Survey: Summary of Results 2009-10. Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Canberra. Available online:
ABS, 2014a. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results Discretionary Foods. Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Canberra. Available online at:
ABS, 2014b. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results Food and Nutrients, 2011-12.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Canberra. Available from:
ABS, 2015a. Australian Health Survey: Under-reporting in nutrition surveys. Australian Bureau
of Statistics (ABS), Canberra. Available from:
ABS, 2015b. National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey: 2011-12, Customised report.
Australian Bureau of Statistics.
AIHW, 2012. Australia’s Food & Nutrition 2012, Cat. no. PHE 163. Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare (AIHW), Canberra.
Albritton, R., 2009. Let Them Eat Junk : how capitalism creates hunger and obesity. Pluto Press,
An, R., 2015. Beverage Consumption in Relation to Discretionary Food Intake and Diet Quality
among US Adults, 2003 to 2012. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,
Barosh, L., Friel, S., Engelhardt, K., Chan, L., 2014. The cost of a healthy and sustainable diet
who can afford it? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 38, 7-12.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Blair, D., Sobal, J., 2006. Luxus consumption: Wasting food resources through overeating.
Agriculture and Human Values 23, 63-74.
Bouvard, V., Loomis, D., Guyton, K.Z., Grosse, Y., Ghissassi, F.E., Benbrahim-Tallaa, L., . . .
Straif, K., 2015. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet
Oncology, doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(1015)00444-00441.
Bradbear, C., Friel, S., 2011. Food systems and environmental sustainability: A review of the
Australian evidence, NCEPH Working Paper. Australian National University, Canberra.
Carlsson-Kanyama, A., Ekström, M.P., Shanahan, H., 2003. Food and life cycle energy inputs:
consequences of diet and ways to increase efficiency. Ecological Economics 44, 293-307.
Carolan, M., 2011. The real cost of cheap food, 1st ed. Earthscan, Abingdon.
Chai, A., Bradley, G., Lo, A., Reser, J., 2015. What time to adapt? The role of discretionary time
in sustaining the climate change valueaction gap. Ecological Economics 116, 95-107.
Cohen, D.A., Sturm, R., Lara, M., Gilbert, M., Gee, S., 2010. Discretionary calorie intake a
priority for obesity prevention: results of rapid participatory approaches in low-income US
communities. Journal of Public Health 32, 379-386.
Colagiuri, S., Lee, C.M., Colagiuri, R., Magliano, D., Shaw, J.E., Zimmet, P.Z., Caterson, I.D.,
2010. The cost of overweight and obesity in Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia 192,
Darmon, N., Drewnowski, A., 2008. Does social class predict diet quality? The American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87, 1107-1117.
de Boer, J., Schösler, H., Aiking, H., 2014. “Meatless days” or “less but better”? Exploring
strategies to adapt Western meat consumption to health and sustainability challenges. Appetite
76, 120-128.
Demaio, A.R., Rockström, J., 2015. Human and planetary health: towards a common language.
The Lancet, 10.1016/S0140-6736(1015)61044-61043.
Dixon, J., Isaacs, B., 2013. Why sustainable and ‘nutritionally correct’ food is not on the agenda:
Western Sydney, the moral arts of everyday life and public policy. Food Policy 43, 67-76.
Drewnowski, A., Rehm, C.D., Martin, A., Verger, E.O., Voinnesson, M., Imbert, P., 2015. Energy
and nutrient density of foods in relation to their carbon footprint. The American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.3114.092486.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Druckman, A., Buck, I., Hayward, B., Jackson, T., 2012. Time, gender and carbon: A study of the
carbon implications of British adults' use of time. Ecological Economics 84, 153-163.
Druckman, A., Jackson, T., 2010. The bare necessities: How much household carbon do we
really need? Ecological Economics 69, 1794-1804.
Duchin, F., 2005. Sustainable consumption of food: a framework for analyzing scenarios about
changes in diets. Journal of Industrial Ecology 9, 99-114.
Friel, S., Barosh, L.J., Lawrence, M., 2014. Towards healthy and sustainable food consumption:
an Australian case study. Public Health Nutrition 17, 1156-1166.
Garnett, T., 2007. The alcohol we drink and it's contribution to the UK's greenhouse gas
emissions: a discussion paper. Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey.
Garnett, T., 2014a. Three perspectives on sustainable food security: efficiency, demand restraint,
food system transformation. What role for life cycle assessment? Journal of Cleaner Production
73, 10-18.
Garnett, T., 2014b. What is a sustainable healthy diet?, FCRN discussion paper. Food Climate
Research Network. Retrieved from:
paper-what-sustainable-healthy-diet, Oxford.
Garnett, T., Mathewson, S., Angelides, P., Borthwick, F., 2015. Policies and actions to shift
eating patterns: What works? Food Climate Research Network, University of Oxford.
Gerbens-Leenes, P.W., Nonhebel, S., 2002. Consumption patterns and their effects on land
required for food. Ecological Economics 42, 185-199.
Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., . . . Tempio, G., 2013.
Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation
opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
Glanz, K., Basil, M., Maibach, E., Goldberg, J., Snyder, D.A.N., 1998. Why Americans Eat What
They Do: Taste, Nutrition, Cost, Convenience, and Weight Control Concerns as Influences on
Food Consumption. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 98, 1118-1126.
Goodland, R., 1997. Environmental sustainability in agriculture: diet matters. Ecological
Economics 23, 189-200.
Hallström, E., Carlsson-Kanyama, A., Börjesson, P., 2015. Environmental impact of dietary
change: a systematic review. Journal of Cleaner Production 91, 1-11.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Hawkes, C., 2006. Uneven dietary development: linking the policies and processes of
globalization with the nutrition transition, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.
Globalization and Health 2:4, doi:10.1186/1744-8603-1182-1184.
Health Council of the Netherlands, 2011. Guidelines for a healthy diet: the ecological
perspective. Health Council of the Netherlands, The Hague. Available from: [accessed 24 May 2015].
Hedenus, F., Wirsenius, S., Johansson, D.J., 2014. The importance of reduced meat and dairy
consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets. Climatic Change 124, 79-91.
Heller, M.C., Keoleian, G.A., 2015. Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimates of U.S. Dietary Choices
and Food Loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology 19, 391-401.
Hendrie, G.A., Ridoutt, B.G., Wiedmann, T.O., Noakes, M., 2014. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
and the Australian DietComparing Dietary Recommendations with Average Intakes.
Nutrients 6, 289-303.
Hertwich, E.G., 2005. Consumption and the rebound effect. Journal of Industrial Ecology 9, 85-
Hindley, C., 2015. 'Sustainable food': whose responsibility is it anyway? A personal
commentary, in: Sloan, P., Legrand, W., Hindley, C. (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of
Sustainable Food and Gastronomy. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 29-33.
Hoek, A.C., Pearson, D., James, S.W., Lawrence, M.A., Friel, S., 2014. Shrinking the food-print:
Understanding consumers to promote healthy and environmentally friendly food behaviours,
in: Rundle-Thiele, S., Kubacki, K., Arli, D. (Eds.), 2014 ANZMAC Conference: Agents of change.
Australian & New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC), Brisbane, pp. 1439-1445.
iPES-Food, 2016. From uniformity to diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to
diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food systems
(iPES-Food), Available online from:
Jabs, J., Devine, C.M., 2006. Time scarcity and food choices: An overview. Appetite 47, 196-204.
Jackson, T., 2009. Prosperity without Growth Economics for a Finite Planet. Earthscan, London.
Johnson, L., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Wardle, J., 2011. Individual and family environment
correlates differ for consumption of core and non-core foods in children. British Journal of
Nutrition 105, 950-959.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Jungbluth, N., Itten, R., Schori, S., 2012. Environmental impacts of food consumption and its
reduction potentials, in: Corson, M.S., van der Werf, H.M.G. (Eds.), Proceedings from the 8th
International Conference on LCA in the Agri-Food Sector (LCA Food 2012). INRA, Rennes,
France, pp. 100-105.
Jungbluth, N., König, A., 2014. Life Cycle Assessment of Swiss Chocolate, SETAC Europe 24th
Annual Meeting. SETAC Europe, 11-15 May 2014, Basel.
Kearney, J., 2010. Food consumption trends and drivers. Philosophical Transactions of the
Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 365, 2793-2807.
Keats, S., Wiggins, S., 2014. Future Diets: Implications for agriculture and food prices. Overseas
Development Institute (ODI). Available at:
assets/publications-opinion-files/8776.pdf (Accessed 15 May 2015), London.
Keyzer, M.A., Merbis, M.D., Pavel, I.F.P.W., van Wesenbeeck, C.F.A., 2005. Diet shifts towards
meat and the effects on cereal use: can we feed the animals in 2030? Ecological Economics 55,
Lawrence, M., Burlingame, B., Caraher, M., Holdsworth, M., Neff, R., Timotijevic, L., 2015a.
Public health nutrition and sustainability. Public Health Nutrition 18, 2287-2292.
Lawrence, M.A., Friel, S., Wingrove, K., James, S.W., Candy, S., 2015b. Formulating policy
activities to promote healthy and sustainable diets. Public Health Nutrition 18, 2333-2340.
Lea, E., Crawford, D., Worsley, A., 2006. Public views of the benefits and barriers to the
consumption of a plant-based diet. European journal of clinical nutrition 60, 828-837.
Lea, E., Worsley, A., 2008. Australian consumers’ food-related environmental beliefs and
behaviours. Appetite 50, 207-214.
Lenzen, M., Kanemoto, K., Moran, D., Geschke, A., 2012. Mapping the structure of the world
economy. Environmental Science & Technology 46, 8374-8381.
Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Kanemoto, K., Geschke, A., 2013. Building Eora: a global multi-region
inputoutput database at high country and sector resolution. Economic Systems Research 25,
Lukas, M., Rohn, H., Lettenmeier, M., Liedtke, C., Wiesen, K., 2015. The nutritional footprint
integrated methodology using environmental and health indicators to indicate potential for
absolute reduction of natural resource use in the field of food and nutrition. Journal of Cleaner
Production, DOI:
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Macdiarmid, J.I., 2013. Is a healthy diet an environmentally sustainable diet? Proceedings of the
Nutrition Society 72, 13-20.
Macdiarmid, J.I., Douglas, F., Campbell, J., 2016. Eating like there's no tomorrow: Public
awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eat less meat as part of a
sustainable diet. Appetite 96, 487-493.
Macdiarmid, J.I., Kyle, J., Horgan, G.W., Loe, J., Fyfe, C., Johnstone, A., McNeill, G., 2012.
Sustainable diets for the future: can we contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by
eating a healthy diet? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96, 632-639.
Masset, G., Vieux, F., Darmon, N., 2015. Which functional unit to identify sustainable foods?
Public Health Nutrition 18, 2488-2497.
McGowan, L., Croker, H., Wardle, J., Cooke, L.J., 2012. Environmental and individual
determinants of core and non-core food and drink intake in preschool-aged children in the
United Kingdom. European journal of clinical nutrition 66, 322-328.
Micha, R., Michas, G., Mozaffarian, D., 2012. Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of
coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetesan updated review of the evidence. Current
Atherosclerosis Reports 14, 515-524.
Monsivais, P., Mclain, J., Drewnowski, A., 2010. The rising disparity in the price of healthful
foods: 20042008. Food Policy 35, 514-520.
Monteiro, C.A., Cannon, G., Moubarac, J.-C., Martins, A.P.B., Martins, C.A., Garzillo, J., . . .
Jaime, P.C., 2015. Dietary guidelines to nourish humanity and the planet in the twenty-first
century. A blueprint from Brazil. Public Health Nutrition 18, 2311-2322.
Monteiro, C.A., Levy, R.B., Claro, R.M., de Castro, I.R.R., Cannon, G., 2011. Increasing
consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health: evidence from
Brazil. Public Health Nutrition 14, 5-13.
Monteiro, C.A., Moubarac, J.C., Cannon, G., Ng, S.W., Popkin, B., 2013. Ultra-processed
products are becoming dominant in the global food system. Obesity Reviews 14, 21-28.
Moodie, R., Stuckler, D., Monteiro, C., Sheron, N., Neal, B., Thamarangsi, T., . . . Casswell, S.,
2013. Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-
processed food and drink industries. The Lancet 381, 670-679.
Nemecek, T., Jungbluth, N., Canals, L.M., Schenck, R., 2016. Environmental impacts of food
consumption and nutrition: where are we and what is next? The International Journal of Life
Cycle Assessment, DOI: 10.1007/s11367-016-1071-3.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
NHMRC, 2005. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand: Including
Recommended Dietary Intakes. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Available from:
NHMRC, 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Australian National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC). Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
NHMRC, 2015. Obesity and Overweight. National Health and Medical Research Council
(NHMRC). [online] Available at:
overweight [Accessed 27 Feb. 2015].
Odegard, I., van der Voet, E., 2014. The future of foodScenarios and the effect on natural
resource use in agriculture in 2050. Ecological Economics 97, 51-59.
Pan, A., PhD, Sun, Q., Md, ScD, Bernstein, A.M., . . . et al., 2012. Red meat consumption and
mortality: Results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of Internal Medicine 172, 555-563.
Pearson, D., Friel, S., Lawrence, M., 2014. Building environmentally sustainable food systems
on informed citizen choices: evidence from Australia. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture: An
International Journal for Sustainable Production Systems 30, 183-197.
Pimentel, D., Williamson, S., Alexander, C., Gonzalez-Pagan, O., Kontak, C., Mulkey, S., 2008.
Reducing Energy Inputs in the US Food System. Hum Ecol 36, 459-471.
Popkin, B.M., Adair, L.S., Ng, S.W., 2012. Global nutrition transition and the pandemic of
obesity in developing countries. Nutrition Reviews 70, 3-21.
Pradhan, P., Reusser, D.E., Kropp, J.P., 2013. Embodied greenhouse gas emissions in diets. PloS
one 8, e62228.
Pretty, J., Barton, J., Pervez Bharucha, Z., Bragg, R., Pencheon, D., Wood, C., Depledge, M.H.,
2015. Improving health and well-being independently of GDP: dividends of greener and
prosocial economies. International Journal of Environmental Health Research,
Pretty, J., Brett, C., Gee, D., Hine, R., Mason, C., Morison, J., . . . Dobbs, T., 2001. Policy
Challenges and Priorities for Internalizing the Externalities of Modern Agriculture. Journal of
Environmental Planning and Management 44, 263-283.
Reynolds, C.J., Piantadosi, J., Buckley, J.D., Weinstein, P., Boland, J., 2015. Evaluation of the
environmental impact of weekly food consumption in different socio-economic households in
Australia using environmentally extended inputoutput analysis. Ecological Economics 111, 58-
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Röös, E., Karlsson, H., Witthöft, C., Sundberg, C., 2015. Evaluating the sustainability of diets
combining environmental and nutritional aspects. Environmental Science & Policy 47, 157-166.
Sage, C., 2012. Environment and Food. Routledge, Abingdon.
Sanne, C., 2002. Willing consumersor locked-in? Policies for a sustainable consumption.
Ecological Economics 42, 273-287.
Schröder, M., 2013. Chapter 16 - Food System Sustainability and the Consumer, in: Webb,
M.R.K. (Ed.), Food Industry Wastes. Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 281-293.
Serra-Majem, L., Ribas, L., Ngo, J., Ortega, R.M., García, A., Pérez-Rodrigo, C., Aranceta, J.,
2004. Food, youth and the Mediterranean diet in Spain. Development of KIDMED,
Mediterranean Diet Quality Index in children and adolescents. Public Health Nutrition 7, 931-
Springmann, M., Godfray, H.C.J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P., 2016. Analysis and valuation of
the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences 113, 41464151.
Stanton, R.A., 2015. Food Retailers and Obesity. Current Obesity Reports 4, 54-59.
Swedish National Food Agency, 2015. Find your way to eat greener, not too much and be
active. Swedish National Food Agency, Uppsala, p. Available from: [Accessed 14 June 2015].
Temple, N.J., Steyn, N.P., 2011. The cost of a healthy diet: A South African perspective.
Nutrition 27, 505-508.
Thorpe, M., Milte, C., Crawford, D., McNaughton, S., 2016. A Revised Australian Dietary
Guideline Index and Its Association with Key Sociodemographic Factors, Health Behaviors and
Body Mass Index in Peri-Retirement Aged Adults. Nutrients 8, 160.
Tilman, D., Clark, M., 2014. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health.
Nature 515, 518-522.
Tubiello, F.N., Salvatore, M., Rossi, S., Ferrara, A., Fitton, N., Smith, P., 2013. The FAOSTAT
database of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Environmental Research Letters 8,
Tukker, A., Goldbohm, R.A., De Koning, A., Verheijden, M., Kleijn, R., Wolf, O., . . . Rueda-
Cantuche, J.M., 2011. Environmental impacts of changes to healthier diets in Europe. Ecological
Economics 70, 1776-1788.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Victor, P.A., 2008. Managing Without Growth: Slower by design, not disaster. Edward Elgar
Publishing, Cheltenham, UK.
Vieux, F., Darmon, N., Touazi, D., Soler, L., 2012. Greenhouse gas emissions of self-selected
individual diets in France: Changing the diet structure or consuming less? Ecological
Economics 75, 91-101.
Wackernagel, M., Onisto, L., Bello, P., Callejas Linares, A., Susana López Falfán, I., Méndez
Garcı́a, J., . . . Guadalupe Suárez Guerrero, M., 1999. National natural capital accounting with
the ecological footprint concept. Ecological Economics 29, 375-390.
Wackernagel, M., Rees, W., 1998. Our ecological footprint: reducing human impact on the earth.
New Society Publishers.
Wang, Y.C., McPherson, K., Marsh, T., Gortmaker, S.L., Brown, M., 2011. Health and economic
burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. The Lancet 378, 815-825.
Watson, W.L., Kury, A., Wellard, L., Hughes, C., Dunford, E., Chapman, K., 2016. Variations in
serving sizes of Australian snack foods and confectionery. Appetite 96, 32-37.
Welch, N., McNaughton, S.A., Hunter, W., Hume, C., Crawford, D., 2009. Is the perception of
time pressure a barrier to healthy eating and physical activity among women? Public Health
Nutrition 12, 888-895.
Westhoek, H., Lesschen, J.P., Rood, T., Wagner, S., De Marco, A., Murphy-Bokern, D., . . .
Oenema, O., 2014. Food choices, health and environment: effects of cutting Europe's meat and
dairy intake. Global Environmental Change 26, 196-205.
White, T., 2000. Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecological Economics 34,
Wilson, N., Nghiem, N., Ni Mhurchu, C., Eyles, H., Baker, M.G., Blakely, T., 2013. Foods and
Dietary Patterns That Are Healthy, Low-Cost, and Environmentally Sustainable: A Case Study
of Optimization Modeling for New Zealand. PLoS ONE 8, e59648.
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Appendix Total environmental impacts and intensities
Table A1. Calculated environmental intensities per dollar of expenditure and per 100g of product, for selected discretionary and non-discretionary products.
Food I-O sectors
Environmental intensity per $ of expenditure
Environmental intensity per 100g of product
Life cycle
Ecological Footprint
Life cycle
Ecological Footprint
Eggs (EGG)
Vegetables (VEG)
Fruit (FRUIT)
Fresh meat (MEAT)
Poultry (MEAT)
Milk (DAIRY)
Cheese (DAIRY)
Butter (DAIRY)
Oils and fats (FATS)
Rice products (CER)
Plain flour (CER)
Bread (BAKE)
Seafood (FISH)
Veg. products (VEG)
Fruit products (FRUIT)
Beer (ALC)
Confectionery (CON)
Cakes & biscuits (BAKE)
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Meat products (MEAT)
Hadjikakou (2017) Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food
consumption in Australia. Ecological Economics 131, 119-128, doi:
Table A2. Weekly household food expenditure (USD) and environmental impact contribution
from principal discretionary food groups for gross income quintiles in Australia
(ABS, 2011, and author calculations - see SI section 1.5).
Discretionary expenditure (2010 US$)
Total discretionary
Total food expenditure (HES)
% discretionary expenditure
% discretionary environmental
Blue Water (l)
Total Energy (MJ)
Ecological Footprint (gha)
CO2-e (kg)
... The evidence in this review found that UPFs require significant land for their production. This was demonstrated in Australian studies which found that discretionary foods account for 33% of diet-related scarce cropland and total land use (Hadjikakou, 2017;Ridoutt et al., 2020); the highest demand for land of the food groups analysed. This was predominantly driven by processed meat products, which contributed up to 13% of total diet-related cropland-scarcity footprint (Ridoutt et al., 2020). ...
... Water is used throughout the lifecycle of UPF production. Included studies found that UPFrelated products were responsible for 24% and 35% of total dietary consumptive water use in Australia and Sweden, respectively (Hadjikakou, 2017;Moberg et al., 2020). Differences between plant-based and animal-based UPFs were not noted. ...
... UPFs were one of the largest contributors to diet-related water use. In Australian diets, discretionary foods accounted for 35% of total dietary life-cycle water use and 25% of dietary scarce water use (Hadjikakou, 2017;Ridoutt et al., 2019;Ridoutt et al., 2021), while in Sweden 'sweets, snacks and drinks' were responsible for 24% of dietary consumptive water use (Moberg et al., 2020). Scarce water used to produce discretionary foods in Australia was estimated to be between 81 to 104L-eq/person/ day (Ridoutt et al., 2019;Ridoutt et al., 2021), which was approximately double the average amount of water used per day for showering in a sub-sample of the Australian population (Willis et al., 2010). ...
Full-text available
Minimising environmental impacts and prioritising the production of nutritious foods are essential qualities of a sustainable food system. Ultra-processed foods (UFPs) are potentially counterproductive to these objectives. This review aims to summarise the magnitude and types of environmental impacts resulting from each stage of the UPF supply chain and to develop a conceptual framework to display these impacts. It also aims to identify the terms used to describe UPFs in the sustainability literature, and the methods used to measure the associated environmental impacts. A narrative review approach with a systematic search strategy was used. Fifty-two studies were included that either described or quantified the environmental impacts of UPFs. This review found that UPFs are responsible for significant diet-related environmental impacts. Included studies reported that UPFs accounted for between 17 and 39% of total diet-related energy use, 36–45% of total diet-related biodiversity loss, up to one-third of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, land use and food waste and up to one-quarter of total diet-related water-use among adults in a range of high-income countries. These results varied depending on the scope of the term used to describe UPFs, stages of the lifecycle included in the analyses and country. Studies also identified that UPF production and consumption has impacts on land degradation, herbicide use, eutrophication and packaging use, although these impacts were not quantified in relation to dietary contribution. The findings highlight that environmental degradation associated with UPFs is of significant concern due to the substantial resources used in the production and processing of such products, and also because UPFs are superfluous to basic human needs. The conceptual framework and findings presented can be used to inform food policy and dietary guideline development, as well as provide recommendations for future research.
... In order to explore the change in food consumption, prior research has mainly focused on food consumption structure [11][12][13], food consumption behavior [7,9,[14][15][16], influencing factors [17,18], food nutrients [19][20][21], and the influence of foods on the environment [14,[22][23][24][25]. During the research process of food consumption, main methods such as the ecological footprint, water footprint, carbon footprint, and AIDS mode have been used widely [26][27][28][29]. ...
... In order to explore the change in food consumption, prior research has mainly focused on food consumption structure [11][12][13], food consumption behavior [7,9,[14][15][16], influencing factors [17,18], food nutrients [19][20][21], and the influence of foods on the environment [14,[22][23][24][25]. During the research process of food consumption, main methods such as the ecological footprint, water footprint, carbon footprint, and AIDS mode have been used widely [26][27][28][29]. ...
Full-text available
Food consumption is the vital connection between human beings and natural resources. Our research explores the characteristics and drivers of food consumption patterns within Mongolian grasslands with a vulnerable ecology and environment. Food consumption data were obtained via a household questionnaire survey, and the emergy method was applied to analyze the food consumption characteristics in different grassland areas. This led to the following results: (1) The total per capita food consumption in different banners showed greater consumption and higher percentage of animal-based food in regions farther north. (2) From south to north, the main meat consumption in different banners varied, the predominant meat type consumed in Taibus was pork, that in Zhenglan was mutton, and that in West Ujimqin was beef. The farther north, the more fruits and vegetables were consumed. (3) The characteristics of food consumption in different areas were influenced by a series of factors, including social, economic, and ecological ones. Local food supply and disposable income were the main factors that had important effects on food consumption structure, as these two factors provided accessibility to foods for consumption.
... For example, they may consider these foods discretionary or occasionally consumed foods. Discretionary foods do not provide nutrients but add variety to the diet, and since these foods are high in fat, added sugar and salt, they should be consumed occasionally and in small quantities (Hadjikakou, 2017;National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013). It is worth mentioning that personal food-related goals, nutrition knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge form people's dietary habits (Worsley, 2002). ...
Purpose This study investigates factors motivating upcycled food choices and assesses the association between these factors and hesitancy towards upcycled food consumption in a Swedish population. Design/methodology/approach An online food choice questionnaire was used. Participants (n = 682) were categorised into Inclined and Hesitant groups based on their intention to consume upcycled foods. The factors motivating upcycled food choices were identified using explanatory factor analyses. Independent t -tests assessed the differences in the mean importance score of factors between the two groups. The association between upcycled food choice factors and hesitancy towards consumption was evaluated by logistic regressions (adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics). Findings The most important upcycled food choice factor in both groups was ethical concerns, followed by natural content, sensory appeal, price, healthiness, familiarity and impression. The Inclined group’s mean importance score for ethical concern was higher than the Hesitant group ( p value <0.001) and, except for natural content, the mean importance scores for the other factors were higher in the Hesitant group compared to the Inclined group ( p value <0.05). Participants who perceived ethical concern as an important factor had lower odds of hesitancy (Odds ratio = 0.39; 95%CI:0.26,0.59; p value <0.001), and those who considered sensory appeal an important factor had higher odds of hesitancy (Odds ratio = 2.42; 95%CI:1.62,3.63; p value <0.001) towards upcycled food consumption compared to participants who did not consider these as important factors. Originality/value This is the first study investigating health and non-health-related upcycled food choice motives using a food choice questionnaire. Identifying these motives helps food developers and researchers determine factors influencing upcycled food consumption.
... Commercial supply chains provisioning UPFs also generate significant environmental harms (da Silva et al. 2021;Fardet and Rock 2020;Hadjikakou and Baker 2019;Seferidi et al. 2020). Among high-income countries, these include an estimated 36-45% of diet-related biodiversity loss, up to one-quarter of total diet-related water-use, and up to one-third of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, land use and food waste (Anastasiou et al. 2022;Hadjikakou 2017). Such impacts are especially remarkable considering that UPFs are unsuitable for healthy diets and superfluous to human need. ...
Full-text available
Many are calling for transformative food systems changes to promote population and planetary health. Yet there is a lack of research that considers whether current food policy frameworks and regulatory approaches are suited to tackle whole of food systems challenges. One such challenge is responding to the rise of ultra-processed foods (UPF) in human diets, and the related harms to population and planetary health. This paper presents a narrative review and synthesis of academic articles and international reports to critically examine whether current food policy frameworks and regulatory approaches are sufficiently equipped to drive the transformative food systems changes needed to halt the rise of UPFs, reduce consumption and minimise harm. We draw on systems science approaches to conceptualise the UPF problem as an emergent property of complex adaptive food systems shaped by capitalist values and logics. Our findings reveal that current food policy frameworks often adjust or reform isolated aspects of food systems (e.g., prices, labels, food composition), but under-emphasise the deeper paradigms, goals and structures that underlie the rise of UPFs as a systems phenomenon, and its socio-ecological implications. We propose that a ‘leverage points’ framework illuminates where to intervene in food systems to generate multi-level changes, while the theory of ecological regulation highlights how to respond to complex multi-factorial problems, like the rise of UPFs, in diverse ways that respect planetary boundaries. More research is needed to better understand the transformative potential of ecological regulation to advance food systems transformation and attenuate whole of food systems challenges.
... In our analysis, food processing was only addressed in the context of environmental sustainability by ten (27%) of 37 FBDGs, despite consistent evidence that highly processed foods are a major contributor to the environmental footprint of diet. [21][22][23][24][25] This example highlights that often an explicit link with sustainability is absent from documents, even when the supporting scientific evidence is strong. Herforth and colleagues 20 drew similar conclusions to our Review in their review of FBDGs, reporting a poor clarity for whether messages associated with reducing red meat consumption were motivated by concerns for health, environmental sustainability, or both. ...
Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) provide country-specific guidance on what constitutes a healthy diet. With increasing evidence for the synergy between human and planetary health, FBDGs have started to consider the environmental sustainability of food choices. However, the number of countries that discuss environmental sustainability in their guidelines is unknown. The purpose of this Review was to identify countries with government-endorsed FBDGs that made explicit mention of environmental sustainability and to examine the breadth and depth of the inclusion of sustainability in FBDGs. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN identified 95 countries with FBDGs. We assessed 83 countries against our inclusion criteria, of which 37 mentioned environmental sustainability. Relevant content was assessed against a set of criteria based on the Food and Agriculture Organization's guiding principles for sustainable healthy diets. The depth to which environmental sustainability was discussed varied and it was often restricted to general explanations of what a sustainable diet is. Few FBDGs addressed why sustainability is important, how dietary changes can be made, or provided quantified advice for implementing sustainable diets.
... However, some authors have reported that the consumption of discretionary foods (foods high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/ or alcohol that can be eaten occasionally in small amounts but are not a necessary part of the diet) may contribute an important part of diet-related environmental pressures (including water use, energy use and GHGe). The energy density of such eating habits could be a strong determinant of environmental pressures 23,24 . In addition, the food-processing sector is an important contributor to total food loss and waste (along the entire food supply chain) generated by retailers and consumers 25 . ...
Full-text available
Our recognition of the environmental pressures associated with dietary patterns has grown considerably over the past decade. However, few studies have analysed the impacts associated with the consumption of ultra-processed food (UPF) and which steps in the food chain contribute the most. Here, using a representative sample of French adults (2,121 enrolled in the Third French Individual and National Food Consumption survey), we investigate the environmental pressures of diets according to UPF consumption. Food intakes were analysed to define the %UPF by weight in the diet according to the NOVA food-classification system. Using detailed environmental data from Agribalyse, we assessed the contribution of UPF to 14 environmental pressure indicators and the contributions of the different food chain stages to these impacts: production, processing, storage, packaging, transport and retailing. The data were described according to quintiles of %UPF in the diet and analysed using crude and energy-adjusted models. Overall, UPF represented 19% of the diet yet contributed 24% to the diet’s greenhouse gas emissions, 23% to water use, 23% to land use and 26% to energy demand. Compared with low consumers of UPF (quintile 1; median UPF, 7%), high consumers (quintile 5; median UPF, 35%) consumed more caloric energy (+22%). Caloric intake partially explained the higher environmental pressures from high-UPF consumers. After we adjusted for calories consumed, the associations with greenhouse gas emissions and land use vanished, and the associations with water use and energy demand became negative. However, the processing and packaging stages contributed significantly to energy demand. Post-farm stages, such as final-product creation and packaging, contributed greater environmental impacts of UPF-rich diets.
Full-text available
Current food systems are associated with the unsustainable use of natural resources; therefore, rethinking current models is urgent and is part of a global agenda to reach sustainable development. Sustainable diets encompass health, society, economy, culture as well as the environment, in addition to considering all the stages that make up the food production chain. This study aimed to perform a review on the importance of using environmental footprints (EnF) as a way of assessing the environmental impacts of food systems. The most used EnF to assess impacts related to the food system was the carbon footprint, followed by the water footprint, and the land use footprint. These EnF usually measured the impacts mainly of the current diet and theoretical diets. Animal-source foods were the ones that most contribute to the environmental impact, with incentives to reduce consumption. However, changing dietary patterns should not be restricted to changing behavior only, but should also involve all stakeholders in the functioning of food systems. We conclude that EnF are excellent tools to evaluate and guide the adoption of more sustainable diets, and can be applied in different contexts of food systems, such as food consumption analysis, menu analysis, food waste, and inclusion of EnF information on food labels.
Full-text available
Objective: The choice of terms used to describe 'foods to limit' (FTL) in food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) can impact public understanding, policy translation and research applicability. The choice of terms in FBDGs have been influenced by available science, values, beliefs and historical events. This study aimed to analyse the terms used and definitions given to FTL in FBDGs around the world, including changes over time and regional differences. Design: A review of terms used to describe FTL and their definitions in all current and past food-based dietary guidelines for adults was conducted, using a search strategy informed by the FAO FBDGs website. Data from 148 guidelines (96 countries) were extracted into a pre-defined table and terms were organized by the categories 'nutrient-based', 'food examples' or 'processing-related'. Setting: National FBDGs from all world regions. Participants: None. Results: Nutrient-based terms (e.g. high-fat foods) were the most frequently used type of term in both current and past dietary guidelines (91%, 85% respectively). However, food examples (e.g. cakes) and processing-related terms (e.g. ultra-processed foods) have increased in use over the past 20 years, and are now often used in conjunction with nutrient-based terms. Regional differences were only observed for processing-related terms. Conclusion: Diverse, and often poorly defined, terms are used to describe FTL in FBDGs. Policy makers should ensure that FTL terms have clear definitions, can be integrated with other disciplines and understood by consumers. This may facilitate the inclusion of the most contemporary and potentially impactful terminology in nutrition research and policies.
Full-text available
In an analysis of food system sustainability challenges and solutions among Swedish food system actors using Q-methodology, five perspectives were identified. One of the main three perspectives placed the highest priority on reduced meat consumption, food waste, and climate impact in agriculture, but downplayed strategies highlighted in the national food strategy and social aspects, and can be interpreted as a diagnostic climate mitigation-oriented perspective that does not reflect current negotiated policy processes or ‘softer’ values of food. In an alternative regenerative perspective, industrialized large-scale farming and lack of internalization of external costs were regarded as the main problems, and diversity, soil health, and organic farming as the main solutions. Proponents of a third perspective regarded phasing out fossil fuels, increased profitability of companies, increased meat production, and self-sufficiency as high priorities. These contrasting views can be a major barrier to transforming the Swedish food system. However, a number of entry points for change (i.e. aspects highly important for some and neutral for others) were identified, including focusing on healthy diets and increased production of fruit and vegetables. Focusing on these can build trust among stakeholders before moving to discussions about the larger and more sensitive systemic changes needed.
Full-text available
India has witnessed a rapid rise in personal income, increased spending on infrastructure and construction and urbanisation in the past three decades. Households have changed their eating habits by purchasing more processed food. This study examines the factors affecting India's consumption of and expenditures on processed foods. The study uses information from three rounds of data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and probit and selection bias‐controlled tobit and ordinary least square (OLS) estimation procedures to estimate the empirical model. Findings reveal that the average expected per capita monthly spending on processed foods increased by about 77% between 1990–1991 and 2011–2012. An increase in total consumption expenditure and rapid urbanisation were the primary drivers of consumption and spending on processed foods by Indian households. Secondly, households with salaried or stable incomes were more likely to consume processed foods than other households. This study suggests public and private initiatives to improve human health and nutritional outcomes in Indian households. The government should strengthen food safety regulations related to processed food preparation, distribution and consumption.
Full-text available
This report explores the potential for a shift to occur from current food systems, characterized by industrial modes of agriculture, to systems based around diversified agroecological farming. It asks what the impacts on food systems would be if diversity, rather than uniformity, were the key imperative. The ecological benefits of such a shift have been widely documented. The key question in this report, is how can food systems based around diversified agroecological farming succeed where current systems are failing, namely in reconciling concerns such as food security, environmental protection, nutritional adequacy and social equity. As this report shows, there is much promise in the emerging evidence.
Full-text available
Significance The food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions while unhealthy diets and high body weight are among the greatest contributors to premature mortality. Our study provides a comparative analysis of the health and climate change benefits of global dietary changes for all major world regions. We project that health and climate change benefits will both be greater the lower the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Three quarters of all benefits occur in developing countries although the per capita impacts of dietary change would be greatest in developed countries. The monetized value of health improvements could be comparable with, and possibly larger than, the environmental benefits of the avoided damages from climate change.
Full-text available
The Dietary Guideline Index, a measure of diet quality, was updated to reflect the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines. This paper describes the revision of the index (DGI-2013) and examines its use in older adults. The DGI-2013 consists of 13 components reflecting food-based daily intake recommendations of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. In this cross-sectional study, the DGI-2013 score was calculated using dietary data collected via an 111-item food frequency questionnaire and additional food-related behaviour questions. The DGI-2013 score was examined in Australian adults (aged 55-65 years; n = 1667 men; 1801 women) according to sociodemographics, health-related behaviours and BMI. Women scored higher than men on the total DGI-2013 and all components except for dairy. Those who were from a rural area (men only), working full-time (men only), with lower education, smoked, did not meet physical activity guidelines, and who had a higher BMI, scored lower on the DGI-2013, highlighting a group of older adults at risk of poor health. The DGI-2013 is a tool for assessing compliance with the Australian Dietary Guidelines. We demonstrated associations between diet quality and a range of participant characteristics, consistent with previous literature. This suggests that the DGI-2013 continues to demonstrate convergent validity, consistent with the original Dietary Guideline Index.
Full-text available
Purpose This article introduces the special issue “LCA of nutrition and food consumption” and 14 papers selected from the Ninth LCA Food Conference in San Francisco in October 2014. Literature overview The scientific literature in the field of food LCA has increased more than ten times during the last 15 years. Nutrition has a high contribution to the total environmental impacts of consumption. Agricultural production often dominates the impacts, but its importance depends on the type of product, its production mode, transport, and processing. Local or domestic products reduce transports, but this advantage can be lost if the impacts of the raw material production are substantially increased. Diets containing less meat tend to be more environmentally friendly. Several studies concluded that respecting the dietary recommendations for a healthy diet would reduce the overall environmental impacts in the developed countries, although this is not a universal conclusion. Contribution of this special issue Eight papers analyze the environmental impacts of catering and in-house food consumption and impacts on sectoral and national levels; four papers presents tools and methods to better assess the impacts of nutrition and to implement the results in practical decision-making. Finally, two contributions analyze the impacts of food waste and reduction options. Challenges for the environmental assessment of nutrition (i) Comprehensive assessment. Most studies only analyze climate impacts, although data, methods, and tools are readily available for a more comprehensive analysis. (ii) Assessment of sustainability. The social dimension remains the weakest pillar. (iii) Data availability is still an obstacle, but significant progress has been made in recent years. (iv) Lack of harmonization of methodologies makes comparisons among studies difficult. (v) Land use. Enhanced consideration of land use impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services is required in LCA. (vi) Defining the functional unit including nutritional aspects, food security, and health needs further work. (vii) Consumer behavior. Its impacts are still little assessed. (viii) Communication of the environmental impact assessment results to stakeholders including policy-makers and consumers needs additional efforts. Research needs and outlook (i) Development of holistic approaches for the assessment of sustainable food systems, (ii) assessment of land use related impacts and inclusion of ecosystem services, (iii) exploration of LCA results for policy support and decision-making, (iv) investigation of food consumption patterns in developing and emerging countries, and (v) harmonization of databases.
Full-text available
This timely book provides a thorough introduction to the inter-relationship of food and the environment. Its primary purpose is to bring to our attention the multiplicity of linkages and interconnections between what we eat and how this impacts on the earth's resources. Having a better idea of the consequences of our food choices might encourage us to develop more sustainable practices of production and consumption in the decades ahead. Although human societies have, over time, brought under control a large proportion of the earth's resources for the purpose of food production, we remain subject to the effective functioning of global ecosystem services. The author highlights the vital importance of these services and explains why we should be concerned about the depletion of freshwater resources, soil fertility decline and loss of biological diversity. The book also tackles some of the enormous challenges of our era: climate change - to which the agri-food system is both a major contributor and a vulnerable sector - and the prospect of significantly higher energy prices, arising from the peaking of oil and gas supplies which will reveal how dependent the food system has become upon cheap fossil fuels. Such challenges are likely to have significant implications for the long-term functioning of global supply chains and raise profound questions regarding the nutritional security of the world's population. Taken together the book argues that a re-examination of the assumptions and practices underpinning the contemporary food system is urgently required. Environment and Food is a highly original, inter-disciplinary and accessible text that will be of interest to students and the wider public genuinely interested in and concerned by the state of the world's food provisioning system. It is richly illustrated with figures and makes extensive use of boxes to highlight relevant examples.
Adapting Western meat consumption to health and sustainability challenges requires an overall reduction of industrially produced animal proteins plus a partial replacement by plant proteins. Combining insights on food, environment, and consumers, this paper aims to explore change strategies that may help to meet these challenges, such as promoting smaller portions of meat ("less"), smaller portions using meat raised in a more sustainable manner ("less but better"), smaller portions and eating more vegetable protein ("less and more varied"), and meatless meals with or without meat substitutes ("veggie-days"). The underlying logic of the strategies was clarified by analyzing dietary choices. A nationwide sample of 1,083 Dutch consumers provided information on current eating practices and potential changes. The results show that strategies to change meat eating frequencies and meat portion sizes will appeal to overlapping but partly different segments of consumers and that these strategies can be applied to address consumers in terms of their own preferences. The strategies appeared to have different strengths and weaknesses, making them complementary pathways to facilitate step-by-step changes in the amounts and the sources of protein consumed.