FOOD CHOICES AND HEALING THE PLANET

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What are some ways that people can help heal the planet through their food choices?

Abstract

The confluence of economic development, environmental pressures, and population growth are leading to increased industrialization and globalization. Theses aspects are consequently contributing to an increase in the constraint of resources whereby the predictions indicate that there is the need to do more with less as the much better way. A sustainable diet is a concept which presents an opportunity for advancing human commitment in a successful manner so as to ensure a sustainable development that involves the elimination of nutrition and food insecurity, poverty and poor health in communities. This study will look into the aspects of what food choices can lead to sustainable diets while at the same time ensuring the protection of the planet. The paper also provides an action plan and recommendations for policy makers in taking considerations and understanding the benefits of processing, promoting and consuming these sustainable diets.
This study aims to determine the relationships between planet sustainability and health about food choices. The data collection method is through a vis-à-vis survey of 11000 consumers from the United States. Chi-square tests and cross-tabulations will be on the selected variables that measure the two types of concerns through segmenting the sample according to their education, gender, and age. The results of this show the existing relationships between environmental concerns and health as being Statistically significant, with a high variable specificity in this link. Another significant aspect is that the socio-demographic conditions to play a major role in determining the relationship between the two concerns whereby the high-educated or the middle -aged respondents displayed a strong association between environmental and health concerns.
2. Introduction
a.     Background
            We consume food each day, but frequently we fail to realize the food that is readily available in the supermarkets is always at the cost of the environment. Rosemary Stanton (2008) from HEIA notes that our consummation is relevant to climate change and our ecological footprint (p. 181). It is because the food choices have a potential to either decrease or increase the human effect on global warming. Matters relating to the feeding of the world population that is drastically expanding and having enough water and food are among the aspects that contribute to the bug picture of making use of the resources in a wise manner. The food types that do not have to package are the ones who have gone through minimal distances and have a more sustainable way of production. Thus choosing these types of food help in reducing human footprint to the planet. There are numerous methods of choosing foods that we can use to ensure that we are responsible citizens when it comes to respecting ecological sustainability.
 The global agricultural system is presently producing sufficient food to feed the planet. However, the consumption and access to sufficient food that is affordable, culturally acceptable and nutritious is a major challenge (OECD, 2012; who, 2012). In the next ten to fifteen years, the population growth projections do highlight the need to improve the environment and quality of the planet sustainability, especially where the food system is concerned. Furthermore with the current climatic change and the escalating population growth that has the high appetite for animal sources foods that are environmentally costly (WHO, 2012; WHO and FAO, 2010) shows the need for the necessary actions.
Poverty, agriculture intensification, urbanization, population pressures and changes in lifestyle have altered food consumption and productions in the way that affect our diets and health (WHO and FAO, 2010). The alarming rate of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss have their negative impact on livelihoods, farming systems and health which are the compelling factors that call for the examination of food diets and food systems from a public health and sustainability perspective.
There is a change in the global dietary patterns which have become dramatic in the past fifty years. These changes present both a threat and a boom to human well-being and health of the world’s population (Aiking, 2011). Many people today consume foods that have a negative impact on the environment as well as their health (FAO, 2006). The income increase is an aspect that accompanies the increased consumption of foods rich in oil, dairy, meat, processed, sodium and salt foods. Furthermore globalization also has an impact on the food system leading to biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. The prices of foods types with high energy are low, yet these foods lack the essential nutrients and lack variety (WHO and FAO, 2010). Together with high sedentary lifestyles and urbanization, there is a rise of obesity and noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. Such trends provide alarming signals on the need for proper food choices and health matters to all people irrespective of the income level of their countries. Despite the fact that there are more than one billion people in the world who are obese and overweight another 868 million people suffer from poverty and hunger and another group of more than two billion face micronutrient deficiencies (WHO, 2010). Such a global imbalance has posed a major challenge of eliminating hunger as one of the Millennium Development Goals.
b.     Objectives
            Historically there have not been sufficient global efforts of addressing the issues of food choices and ensuring the sustainability of the planet. Thus, there have been low momentum levels as well as focus other broad initiatives that acknowledge hunger reduction, food security, undernutrition and sustainable foods. Such initiatives do address the rising issues of overweight and obesity, non-communicable diseases from an environmental, health and human development through a holistic approach.
 The main objectives that these paper tackles are;
 1. To find the relationship between environmental sustainability and health trough making proper food choices.
1.     The role of policymakers in ensuring that individuals have healthy food choices to make which do not impact on the environment.
2.    The need for new sustainable development goals (SDGs ) that focus on environmental sustainability, social inclusion, development economic which aim to promote the benefits and notions of sustainable diets as central aspects to attaining the proposed goals.
3. Action Plan
Sustainability diets give a new opportunity for advancing our commitments successfully in sustainable development as well as the elimination of food insecurity and poverty. There is the need for food and environmental organizations such as Livewell Project, SDC and FAO among others to advance their efforts by agreeing on what sustainable diets promote economic and environmental stability through affordable and low-impact, accessible food while at the same time supporting public health via adequate nutrition. The most important aspect is that the sustainable diets help preserve tradition and promote sovereignty involving acceptable foods and culturally sensitive.
            There is also need to take action on how to mitigate the risks facing the future food systems as well as the ability of these foods in producing sufficient foods in a sustainable manner. The availability of such foods means that people have more opportunities to choose the best foods that can help them deal with poor health outcomes such as obesity and overweight and undernutrition (OECD, 2012).
            Furthermore as a way of advancing the commitment to choosing sustainable foods and diets as a main aspect in sustaining the planet and environment, there is the need to address the gaps to enhance proper understanding of aspects that make up sustainable diet among a wide range of population and in different contexts. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand the way theses diets are made accessible within the entire global food system and how to achieve dietary goals and environmental sustainability through proper food choices and consumption patterns. There is also need to reexamine ways which these sustainable diets can help in transforming the population’s health and at the same time promoting the development of economies and eliminate or slow down the degradation of the environment. Despite the fact that these processes are not sufficient due to lack of political support and attention. It is a problem that contributes to a complex web of interactions between the industry, public health, consumer behavior, food systems, and challenges the policymakers to face in undertaking the best choices, regarding commercial, civil society and government matters (24)
4. Data Gathering
a.     Methodological Approach
This study uses data from the vis-à-vis survey interviews of 1100 American consumers who are in charge of shopping for their household groceries to find out the diet choices among populations. With consideration of the population size of the United States, the selected sample size enables us to have a relative error of approximately 6%. The retail stores selected are on geographically stratified systematic sampling from various states at random points of starting. The researcher listed all the hypermarkets and supermarkets in these states on their postcode basis. The identification of the first store was through random extraction of numbers ranging from one and a sampling fraction. The selection of the remaining stores was through adding another sampling fraction to the initial number. There was a random approach to the consumers at the entrances of the ten hypermarkets and 22 supermarkets. With considerations on the sizes of the stores, there was the recruitment of ten consumers in every supermarket and 30 in each of the selected hypermarkets. The interviews were at various times at day times targeting the various consumers.
The questionnaire has questions on matters of food choices and consumption that aim at finding out the relationship between environmental sustainability and health concerns of consumers who make the selection of food choices. The questionnaire also collects their socio-economic information. Despite being aware of the difficulties of gathering information relating to environmental sustainability and healthfulness on food choices using a few questions, I had to focus on some broad proxies that can help me begin to explore such inclinations on a joint frontier. Specifically in measuring matters on health on food choices and consumption, it is crucial to evaluate the frequency in which consumers consume junk food and healthy food such as fried food, packed /processed food, soft drink, energy-dense snacks, vegetables, cereals, and fruits. For the category of energy-dense snacks, the study included the pre-processed and pre-packed small portions of foods that have the high content level of preservatives and additives, salt/sugar. However, we did not include foods made from homemade ingredients. Despite recognizing that there is single food that is unhealthy, but the main focus is on the issue of diet (Capacci, Mazzocchi, and Shankar, 2012).
Thus, it was crucial to choose a specific type of foods that are the common part of the either less/more healthy in the literature. In fact, the recent guidelines from WHO indicate that we need to eat more vegetables and fruits and less of the foods that have high-processes such as junk foods (Chan, 2013). Despite the lack of a clear definition of what junk foods are, however, there has been the constant reference from studies that these are the food items with the high level of sugar, fat, and salt. Such foods are confectionaries, soft drinks, fast food, savory/crisps snacks, pre-prepared convenience foods and pre-sugared breakfast cereals. The nutrient profile models also provide directions on healthfulness scores on food items and the whole diet (Arambepola,  Scarborough, and Rayner, 2007). Thus based on these approaches, the framework of this study are to the following variables. Choose vegetable (Variable I), choose fruit (variable ii) which are the healthy foods. The other variables are in junk foods such as choose an energy –dense snack (variable iii), choose fried food (variable IV), and choose soft drinks (variable v).
The study measures the consumer’s consumption frequency in two separate scales, considering the appropriate level differences of consumption of junk and healthy food. Furthermore, the variables constructions of analysis like scales invention so as to establish the healthier behavior as being linked to the highest value. The questionnaire, however, aimed to order the possible answer regarding the lowest consumption level to the highest one for all kinds of food so as to avoid an increased error resulting from social desirability bias. With vegetables and fruit, the responses were grouped in a category castle with three points to assess the level of frequency in consumption. The low value of 1, medium with a value of 2 and high of more than once a day with a value of 3 on consumption of healthy foods. In the case of the junk food, the scale was in the form of high meaning habitually with a value of 1, Medium (meaning a few times in a month at a value of 2) and low (rarely meaning at a value of 3) consumption.
 The measurement of environmental sustainability aspects among consumers when deciding on food choices, we had to access the binary variables on consumption of food products with I.) choice of vegetables and fruits on the season. ii.) Environmental certification (food miles, Rainforest Alliance, and Dolphin Safe) that is for environmental reasons. The first variable choice relates to the preferences towards the products that have eco-labeling as well as the willingness to pay for such products as commonly used in literature for evaluating the attitudes of consumers on environmental conservation (Chen, 2014). The second variable choice relates to literature on food miles that indicate the environmental aspects of unseasonal and seasonal food or importedlocal products (Garnett, 2011). As per this perspective, the consumption of vegetables and fruits is a signal towards showing interests to the food product that has the low impact on the environment, especially in carbon footprint terms. The questionnaire asked about the environmental motivation as a reason behind choosing the vegetable and fruits that are locally produced and other factors such as low prices and better taste. Consumers will give answers as to whether their choices for vegetables and fruits was for the purpose of culinary custom, better taste, low prices, and concern towards the environmental impact. However, the researcher recognizes that these choices have their limitations and that more variables could be part of this study. On socio-economic variables, the study participants were from age 25 to 65 representing both male and female and had various educational levels.
 We used the Pearson’s chi-square test of independence to evaluate if there is a statistically significant association between environmentally- sustainable food choices and health variables. With the focus on the whole sample as well as the specific categories of the participants regarding their education, gender, and age. With the available ordinal data, it was possible to compute the data using Kruskal and Goodman’s gamma test for evaluating the strength of association among the variables. The hypothesis was tested using the 0.01, 0.05 and 0.10 significance levels.
5. Conclusion
            Matters relating to the aspects of the environment and health within the food market are more crucial than in the past for both the consumers and the policy makers. Both the consumer and societal perspectives are relevant in establishing a sustainable development framework. The aim of this study is to look into the existence of the association between environmentally- sustainable food choices and health. Though the results of this study do not identify the general definition of the relationship between the two concerns, it is nevertheless possible to show the relationship of the selected variables. The result from the study shows a strong case specificity. Especially on the health variable that shows a strong association between concerns on the environment epically on fried food consumption. Also, the variables on fruit consumption also show well the joint concerns on environmental and health issues. On environmental aspects, the co-labeling of products can give good results. The study also contributes to the fact that the socio-demographic conditions play a significant role in establishing the link between environmental and health concerns. Especially the fact that the highly educated and middle-aged respondents are showing this strong association between the variables. With the limited literature, this study adds to this knowledge gap, but it requires additional variables for assessing of attitudes.
6. References
 Aiking, H (2011). Future protein supply. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 22, 112–120.
  Arambepola, C.; Scarborough, P.; Rayner, M (2007). Validating a nutrient profile model. Public HealthNutr. 11, 371–378
Chen, M (2014). The attitude on organic foods among Taiwanese regarding environmental attitudes, health consciousness, and the healthy lifestyle. Br. Food J, 111,
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 Chan, M. World Health on Blood Pressure Day Message. Available online:
http://who.int/dg/speeches/2013/world_health_day_20130403/en/
 Capacci, S.; Mazzocchi, M.; Shankar, B (2012). The regional price of junk foods about healthy foods in the UK: Indirect estimation of a time series, 1997–2009. In Proceedings of the 86th Annual
Conference, Coventry, UK, 16–18
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 World Health Organization (WHO) (2010). Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases; WHO: Geneva, Switzerland.
 WHO and FAO (2010). Diet,  the prevention of chronic diseases and nutrition. WHO/FAOConsultation Expert  Report; WHO Technical Report 916; WHO: Geneva, Switzerland.
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7.Recommendations
 With the weak association between the concerns of health and environmental sustainability on food choices, there is a need for information campaigns to increases consumer knowledge on matters of planet sustainability and our impact on our daily food choices. It is because the highly educated responded showed a strong attitude in positive and negative ways towards environmental issues and health. It is also crucial for policymakers to ensure the accessibility and availability of enough sustainable foods at low prices so that consumers can choose them. Policy makers should come up with comprehensive initiatives that address matters on information campaign on proper food choices, human impact on environmental degradation through food choices and proper food choices to maintain good health by preventing noncommunicable diseases.


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