Knowledge for better food systems

Metrics for sustainable healthy diets: why, what how?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The FCRN and the Food Foundation have jointly produced new report based on a meeting, held November 2016, on the topic of metrics for sustainable healthy diets for the food industry. While a range of sustainability metrics for this industry already exists, none comprehensively measure the progress (or otherwise) that food companies are taking to foster a public shift towards more sustainable and healthy eating patterns (SHEPs). The meeting report considers whether further work on such a set of metrics would be of use.

While governments have a major role to play in stimulating a shift towards sustainable healthy diets, food companies are the gatekeepers of consumption. The food that companies produce and sell, the way they market them, and at what price, are all crucial influences on what people eat. The report therefore considers whether there is a need to benchmark and track how companies, through their food offer, are fostering or hindering a shift towards more sustainable and healthy eating patterns.  In short, do we need a set of indicators to assess companies’ progress and hold them to account?

  1. The report highlights some of the questions that need to be considered when thinking about the role, nature and value of metrics and who their intended target users should be. It provides a detailed overview of one particular potential user: the investment community.  One whole section of the report provides an explanation of how the often poorly-understood investment community operates. It also very briefly scopes out some ideas for a future project, which would explore:
  2. How do we define sustainable and healthy diets?
  3. What metrics already exist and what are their strengths, limitations and omissions?  Are new metrics needed?
  4. Should we target the whole food industry or just an aspect of the food industry? 
  5. Who is the most appropriate target users (i.e. investors versus civil society)?
  6. Who should we collaborate with?