Sustainable diets in the UK—developing a systematic framework to assess the environmental Impact, cost and nutritional quality of household food purchases

Wendy Wrieden, Joel Halligan, Louis Goffe, Karen L. Barton, I. Leinonen

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issue

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Sustainable diets should not only respect the environment but also be healthy and affordable. However, there has been little work to assess whether real diets can encompass all three aspects. The aim of this study was to develop a framework to quantify actual diet records for health, affordability and environmental sustainability and apply this to UK food purchase survey data. We applied a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach to detailed food composition data where purchased food items were disaggregated into their components with traceable environmental impact data. This novel approach is an improvement to earlier studies in which sustainability assessments were based on a limited number of “food groups”, with a potentially high variation of actual food items within each group. Living Costs and Food Survey data for 2012, 2013 and 2014 were mapped into published figures for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE, taking into account processing, transport and cooking) and land use, a diet quality index (DQI) based on dietary guidelines and food cost, all standardised per household member. Households were classified as having a ‘more sustainable’ diet based on GHGE, cost and land use being less than the median and DQI being higher than the median. Only 16.6% of households could be described as more sustainable; this rose to 22% for those in the lowest income quintile. Increasing the DQI criteria to >80% resulted in only 100 households being selected, representing 0.8% of the sample. The framework enabled identification of more sustainable households, providing evidence of how we can move toward better diets in terms of the environment, health, and costs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4974
Number of pages14
Issue number18
Early online date11 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2019


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