Knowledge for better food systems

New paper argues material lifestyles are not making us happier

Although not specifically focusing on food sustainability this paper is of relevance for the larger debate on alternative models of sustainable development. The paper concludes that our modern material lifestyles are failing to make us happier, are damaging our health, are no longer sustainable and cost the overall economy tens of billions of pounds every year.


Increases in gross domestic product (GDP) beyond a threshold of basic needs do not lead to further increases in well-being. An explanation is that material consumption (MC) also results in negative health externalities. We assess how these externalities influence six factors critical for well-being: (i) healthy food; (ii) active body; (iii) healthy mind; (iv) community links; (v) contact with nature; and (vi) attachment to possessions. If environmentally sustainable consumption (ESC) were increasingly substituted for MC, thus improving well-being and stocks of natural and social capital, and sustainable behaviours involving non-material consumption (SBs-NMC) became more prevalent, then well-being would increase regardless of levels of GDP. In the UK, the individualised annual health costs of negative consumption externalities (NCEs) currently amount to £62 billion for the National Health Service, and £184 billion for the economy (for mental ill-health, dementia, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, loneliness and cardiovascular disease). A dividend is available if substitution by ESC and SBs-NMC could limit the prevalence of these conditions.


Pretty, J.,  Barton, J., Pervez Bharucha, Z.,  Bragg, R., Pencheon, D., Wood, C., Depledge, M. H., Improving health and well-being independently of GDP: dividends of greener and prosocial economies, International Journal of Environmental Health Research, DOI:10.1080/09603123.2015.1007841


Read the full paper here. See further coverage of the paper from Science Daily here.

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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