An economic lens for sustainable dietary guidelines

Vivica I Kraak and Katherine Consavage Stanley
The Lancet Planet Health
Resource type:
Peer review

A 2019 FAO and WHO report advised Member State governments to “develop national FBDG recommendations that define context-specific sustainable healthy diets by taking into account the social, cultural, economic, ecological and environmental circumstances”. The UN report described 16 guiding principles for the health, environmental, and sociocultural domains.3 Although one principle listed under the sociocultural domain recommended that diets should be accessible and affordable, the report did not contain principles for economic sustainability. When economic considerations are excluded from FBDG analyses, countries are unlikely to achieve the recommendations in the other sustainability domains.

The use of an economic lens to examine the opportunities and challenges to advance sustainable diets is essential to promote human and planetary health. Economic sustainability principles encompass the type of agricultural production system, food prices and diet costs, economic viability, profitability, wealth distribution across the food system, clean and green business innovation, and stable jobs with liveable wages to improve livelihoods.

Ecological economics offers an alternative paradigm and principles from neoclassical economics for governments to advance sustainable diets and food systems by: establishing new business innovation standards and sustainability metrics; ensuring fair profit distribution through food-value distribution systems; prioritising stable employment and liveable wages for people to afford and access adequate, high-quality, nutritious diets; and protecting equitable safety-net programmes.

Many conceptual models show the multifaceted aspects of the four domains that influence sustainable diets and food systems. The figure presents principles for sustainable diets and food systems across these domains to advance human and planetary health by 2050. Human hands were purposefully incorporated into the images for each domain because humans have agency to facilitate or hinder actions toward sustainable diets.


Economic Lens on Dietary Guidelines
Principles for sustainable diets across four domains to advance human and planetary health by 2050 Source: Authors


You might also be interested in:


Photo Credit: Pexels

This resource has been peer reviewed