4. Sustainable and healthy food

//4. Sustainable and healthy food

4. Sustainable and healthy food

Recommendation: Make healthy, sustainable food accessible, attractive and affordable for all

Our current food consumption and production systems are damaging the environment. They lead to the over-consumption of cheap, processed, unhealthy foods, which is correlated with increasing levels of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases, and to high levels of meat consumption, with particular consequences to the environment. More sustainably produced and healthy foods are often expensive, whilst small-scale rural producers using more sustainable farming methods struggle to earn a decent living. There is also an increasing disconnect between what we consume and how it was produced, and a lack of knowledge about how food is grown. These factors all exacerbate health inequalities. Outcomes from the INHERIT Five-Country Survey reinforce that choices around food are highly price-sensitive, with around half of the respondents indicating that they would find it easier to follow healthy and sustainable diets if the price of fruit and vegetables was lower and the price of foods high in sugar and salt was higher.[1] Outcomes of the survey also suggest that food-related behaviours are strongly influenced by culture, and difficult to change. But looking ahead, reactions to the INHERIT future scenarios reflect that many people value the possibility of growing their own food, and thereby having access to fresh, seasonable products and more affordable and healthy options.[2]

Voices from INHERIT

[…] the price is a decisive factor what food the population will consume. We all know there are many healthy food items, with high nutritional value, but their price is too high compared with food which is less healthy but will satisfy the essential needs for food. I am sure if the healthy food is cheaper it would have been used much more often.

Macedonia, 26, Middle Income

The food that we consume today does not have any taste. I am older now and I remember the taste of strawberries, tomatoes, and other agricultural products, which do not have the same taste today. Food tastes like plastic. And even the meat, frozen, imported from Brazil, or who knows where else.

Macedonia, 67, Low Income

Yeah, community gardens and parks and forests. Sharing gardens and things. I like places to go and food growing in the earth and enjoying my surroundings more so.

UK, 33, High Income

I would like unhealthy food to become more expensive. Because e.g. with water and tea when you go out for dinner, it is often more expensive than these sweet drinks and so it is also in the shop and then of course, even if a child goes into the shop with his pocket money, of course he buys himself sweet things first because he thinks it is better, but basically if I have little, I buy what is cheaper.

Germany, 28, High Income

I think it makes sense to consume local and seasonal products and if you have the opportunity, even if only on the balcony, to plant something yourself, you should do so. I think everybody can handle tomatoes, even I can do that.

Germany, 35, High Income

I agree […] with the incentives for education and motivation of citizens towards new diets, also making cheaper healthy products to promote their consumption […]

Spain, 27, Low Income

What can be done? Insights from INHERIT

National and sub-national   EU level
  • Improving access to sustainably produced and healthy food is not the work of a single sector, but requires reorienting of food systems as a whole, to ensure healthier, more sustainable food production. This requires a collaborative approach vertically across government levels and horizontally across government sectors – health, environmental, social – when designing and implementing food policies, for instance integrating health and environmental sustainability considerations. Be aware of inevitable trade-offs and compromises (e.g. healthy food is not always sustainably produced). (STOEMP)
  • Support innovative private actors (food industry, retail), stimulating sustainable change and hold the private sector accountable, as it plays a key role in the availability and affordability of healthy and sustainable food for all (see Recommendation 6 on private sector guidance).
  • Provide fiscal incentives, such as subsidies for fruits and vegetables.
  • Disincentivise the consumption of unhealthy foods and ensure the true environmental cost of producing food is reflected in the price (for instance for meat).
  • Provide specific financial support to low-income groups, making efforts to find subtle inclusive ways to encourage the uptake and lower the cost of services and commodities that can improve their health and wellbeing, as stigmatisation can place an additional burden on people suffering from relative deprivation.
  • Promote short circuits of healthy locally-grown food (e.g. through financial incentives for producers), helping small-scale producers to earn a fair living and consumers to eat healthier more sustainable food, and fostering a circular local economy. (PROVE)
  • Provide quality education and communication on healthy, sustainable food, across different population groups (socio-economic, age, gender), and through different channels (schools and work canteens, supermarkets), to increase knowledge and skills (e.g. how to prepare low-cost tasty vegetarian meals) and build new standards and norms of what constitutes a good diet.
  • Help schools to ensure healthy and sustainable meals for children, to expose them to a range of fruits and vegetables and increase their familiarity with and acceptance of vegetarian options from an early age. (Sustainable Food in Public Schools)
  • Ensure procurement rules that enable schools to provide such options.
  • Foster outdoor learning about food production amongst children, increasing their sense of connection with the natural environment and helping them value food. (Gardening with Green Gyms and Meat Free Mondays, GemüseAckerdemie)
  • Target in particular schools in low income areas, to help to reduce health inequalities.
  • Together with local communities, develop gardens in which to grow organic healthy foods. These do not only provide health and environmental benefits, but can also foster social inclusion, and provide volunteering opportunities, that can help long-term unemployed re-integrate into the labour market and provide socialisation opportunities for the elderly. (See Recommendation 1 on Green Spaces, and The Food Garden).
  • Move towards a Common EU Food Policy (rather than a Common Agricultural Policy) by 2030, providing a coherent integrated approach to producing sustainable healthy food. Reorient food production in the EU to align more closely with broadly accepted nutritional guidelines (emphasising the consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds and discouraging high levels of meat consumption), to improve health and restore the environment.
  • Make the EU’s land use and trade policies consistent with the values of sustainability.
  • Ensure the European Semester cycle (aligned with the SDGs as of 2020) and the country specific recommendations for system reforms in countries support these transitions. Encourage use of funding programmes such as Regional Development Funds under the CAP, InvestEU, Erasmus and Youth Guarantee, ESF+, EGAF and Cohesion funds to implement reforms and create green jobs in sustainable food chains and agriculture.
  • Use learning from INHERIT, past and future EU Joint Actions (JANPA and BestReMap) to develop EU level guidelines on healthy and sustainable food, including through cross-sectoral private-public-civil society partnership approaches and consumer awareness.
  • Maintain and step up the EU Scheme for school fruit, vegetable and milk provision and update it to ensure it also incorporates environmental and social dimensions.


INHERIT triple-win case studies

More information on the INHERIT case studies can be found in the Annex: triple-win case studies


An integrated city approach to ensure healthy sustainable food to low-income populations. Demonstrates how different sectors and organisations can work synergistically together to implement actions towards healthy eating.

The Food Garden

Community garden providing organic food for low-income families, staffed by volunteers from vulnerable groups. Provides healthy and sustainable food, work activation and garden education opportunities for vulnerable populations, and increased green space in an urban area.


Training programme for teachers to bring children outdoors and educate them about food production. Grew from 1 pilot to over 400 programmes across 3 countries.

Sustainable Food in Public Schools

Initiative under which nursery schools in Madrid provide healthy sustainable food to children. Assessed as economically beneficial (the potential benefits exceed the costs in a ratio of approximately six to one).

Gardening with Green Gyms and Meat Free Mondays

Initiative providing children with opportunities to connect to nature and consume healthy foods. Benefited in particular children with learning difficulties/autism and children who struggle with work in the classroom.


Small-scale farmers sell healthy products directly to consumers through an online platform, highlighting the benefits of an alternative economic model that focuses on a short circuit of food production and consumption. The farmers’ wellbeing and individual empowerment is positively affected. PROVE is aiming to expand to distribute its products to schools.

Tool: INHERIT Promising practice database


Over 100 promising practices from across Europe, including on “consuming”.

Additional Reading from INHERIT

Article: School-based intervention on physical activity and eating

Khan, M. and Bell, R. (2019) Effects of a School Based Intervention on Children’s Physical Activity and Healthy Eating: A Mixed-Methods Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 16(22), 4320.

Article: PROVE

Coming soon…

Report: Baseline review

Staatsen, B., van der Vliet, N., Kruize, H., et al. (2017) INHERIT: Exploring triple-win solutions for living, moving and consuming that encourage behavioural change, protect the environment, promote health and health equity. Chapter 7

2019-12-19T16:19:05+01:00November 26, 2019|Keys areas|Comments Off on 4. Sustainable and healthy food