Addressing Our “Food-Print”

The health effects of food have long been known and studied in relation to the prevention, onset and management disease. In more recent years, we have found that what consumers purchase, prepare and eat does not only affect their health but also affects the environment. Food production accounts for approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of human water use.1, 2 The environmental impact of food production was only set to increase, given our rapidly increasing population growth.

Policy makers have been diligent in developing climate change mitigation strategies, most of which focus on improving efficiency, incorporating technological advances and reducing waste in food production.3 Although these strategies are slowly improving environmental impact of food, research suggests that this alone is insufficient to meet set targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emission.4

Ultimately, if we are considering our “food-print” we need to consider the overall dietary habits of the population! It has been suggested that features of a healthy diet, centered on a diverse range of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, with less consumption of animal foods and energy-dense highly processed and packaged foods, have a low environmental impact and are both nutritionally and environmentally sustainable in the long-term.5 Dietary behaviours such as reducing over consumption (i.e., not eating more than a person’s energy requirement) and a decrease in meat consumption are suggested solutions.4 It is estimated that livestock accounts for approximately 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.6 We also know that diets high in red meat are correlated with an increased risk of chronic diseases and overall mortality.7

For these reasons, there has been a push towards implementing “sustainable diets”. The FAO (2010)  defines sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources”.8

As health professionals it is our responsibility to be aware of the impact of diet and help to overcome the obstacles individuals experience that may limit environmental and nutritional goals. A variety of factors (personal, cultural, social, emotional) are responsible for people’s dietary choices, attitudes and beliefs toward habits in meat consumption. In order to best assist this problem, we need to understand people’s willingness to adopt change to help better their personal health and environmental “food-print”.


  1. Garnett T, Appleby M, Balmford A, Bateman I, Benton T, Bloomer P, et al. What is a sustainable healthy diet? A discussion paper. 2014.
  2. Tilman D, Clark M. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature. 2014;515(7528):518-22.
  3.  Bajželj B, Richards KS, Allwood JM, Smith P, Dennis JS, Curmi E, et al. Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Climate Change. 2014;4(10):924.
  4. Hedenus F, Wirsenius S, Johansson DJ. The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets. Climatic change. 2014;124(1-2):79-91.
  5. Garnett T, Mathewson S, Angelides P, Borthwick F. Policies and actions to shift eating patterns: what works. Foresight. 2015;515(7528):518-22.
  6. Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M, Rosales M, et al. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options: Food & Agriculture Org.; 2006.
  7. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of internal medicine. 2012;172(7):555-63.
  8. FAO. (2010). Definition of sustainable diets. International scientific symposium: Biodiversity and sustainable diets united against hunger. Rome (Italy): Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Your scenario:

You are working for the Victorian Healthy Eating Enterprise (VHEE) and your primary role is to facilitate implementation of the VicHealth Healthy Eating Strategy 2019-2023. The focus of the Healthy Eating Strategy is “to support and promote fair and sustainable changes across the food system to make healthier eating easier for all Victorians”. The next task for your team is to develop a new resource for the promotion of “Sustainable Diets”. Before you tackle this task, you think it’d be beneficial to understand the Victorian public’s current knowledge, perceptions, experiences and attitudes towards healthy eating behaviours that are environmentally friendly. After all, this is a good place to start!

You float ideas with your team about organising a qualitative study that will help you to collect this preliminary data, but in the meantime your boss finds a qualitative study that was run in another country which looked at the same thing and formed the basis for their guidelines. She asks you to critique the study and report your findings to her. This will help you to set up your study in the near future.

Your task:

You will be required to choose ONE of the given articles, read and extract relevant information to complete the template provided. The template encompasses the questions you need to answer. Use these to structure your critique. This assessment should be presented in the form of a report (with in-text citations and references), it cannot use dot-points and should be written in full sentences.

Assessment 5 Instructions and Details

A critique is a systematic process used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a research article in order to assess the usefulness and validity of research findings. The most important components of the critique appraisal are to evaluate the appropriateness of the study design for the research question and a careful assessment of the key methodological features of this design. Other factors that you should also consider include potential conflicts of interest and the relevance of the research to your practice as a dietitian/nutritionist.

Article #1

Macdiarmid, J. I., Douglas, F., & Campbell, J. (2016). Eating like there’s no tomorrow: Public awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eat less meat as part of a sustainable diet. Appetite, 96, 487-493.

Article #2

Hoek, A. C., Pearson, D., James, S. W., Lawrence, M. A., & Friel, S. (2017). Shrinking the food-print: A qualitative study into consumer perceptions, experiences and attitudes towards healthy and environmentally friendly food behaviours. Appetite, 108, 117-131.

Template for Articles

Section 1: Introduction of main features of research

  • Study title – Is the title clear, accurate?
  • Author – do the researcher’s qualifications/position indicate a degree of knowledge in this field?
  • Abstract – does the abstract offer a clear overview of the study, including the re-search problem, sample, methodology, findings and recommendations?
  • Writing style – is the report well written – ie. concise, grammatically correct, avoids the use of jargon? Is it well laid out and organized?

Section 2: Evaluating elements of qualitative research1

  • Did the paper describe an important clinical problem addressed via a clearly formulated question? Does the author provide a comprehensive literature review for the topic which highlights the purpose and significance of the research?
  • Was a qualitative approach appropriate?
  • How were (a) the setting and (b) the subjects selected?
  • What methods did the researcher use for collecting data, and are these described in enough detail?
  • What methods did the researcher use to analyse the data, and what quality control measures were implemented?
  • What was the researcher’s perspective, and has this been taken into account?
  • Are the results credible and, if so, are they clinically important?
  • What conclusions were drawn, and are they justified by the results?
  • Are the findings of the study transferable to other settings?

1 Dixon-Woods, M., Shaw, R. L., Agarwal, S., & Smith, J. A. (2004). The problem of appraising qualitative research. BMJ Quality & Safety, 13(3), 223-225.