Healthy food cannot be defined by nutritional quality alone. It is the end result of a food system that conserves and renews natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth, and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters now and into the future.
This paper presents scientific data supporting this environmental nutrition approach, which expands the definition of healthy food beyond measurable food components such as calories, vitamins, and fats, to include the public health impacts of social, economic, and environmental factors related to the entire food system.
Adopting this broader understanding of what is needed to make healthy food shifts our focus from personal responsibility for eating a healthy diet to our collective social responsibility for creating a healthy, sustainable food system. We examine two important nutrition issues, obesity and meat consumption, to illustrate why the production of food is equally as important to consider in conversations about nutrition as the consumption of food.
The health care sector has the opportunity to harness its expertise and purchasing power to put an environmental nutrition approach into action and to make food a fundamental part of prevention-based health care.
Taking Action on Environmental Nutrition
Clinicians can organize Grand Rounds at their facilities focused on an environmental nutrition issue like antibiotics overuse in food animal production to raise awareness among their colleagues about the health impacts of industrialized agriculture.
HOSPITAL FOOD PURCHASING
Food service staff can procure sustainably produced foods and beverages and support farmers, distributors, and food businesses that are actively building a healthier food system.
Health professionals can leverage their health expertise and visit elected officials to advocate for public policies that promote sustainable and fair agricultural production practices.
Health professionals and scientists can support and promote ongoing research on the individual and community health impacts of our current food production methods with an emphasis on agricultural inputs such as pesticides, fertilizers, fossil fuels, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms.
HEALTH CARE WITHOUT HARM’S HEALTHY FOOD IN HEALTH CARE PROGRAM
Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care program harnesses the expertise and purchasing power of the health care sector to put an environmental nutrition approach into action.