Informing healthy and sustainable diets
We are currently facing multiple challenges related to agriculture and food systems. Overconsumption of unhealthy food and underconsumption of health food have been estimated to be responsible for more than 500,000 deaths and 10,000,000 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) per year in the US alone. At the same time, food systems are important drivers of climate change, ecosystem quality, and resources depletion. Many efforts have focused on addressing these issues separately and only a few have attempted to tackle the combined effects of diets on nutrition and the environment, primarily investigating average national diets and balanced diet patterns. Although these efforts is the highlight of the importance and need for urgent actions towards sustainable (healthy, environmentally friendly, and affordable) diets, it is challenging to disseminate such diet-level findings for making informed day-to-day meal choices.
This project will develop a framework that will enable the comprehensive evaluation of food items by combining nutritional, environmental, and economic indicators. More specifically, we will use the novel health nutritional index (HENI) to measure the health potential of as-consumed-foods in marginal minutes of healthy life gained or lost, based on epidemiological evidence for 16 dietary risk factors. This information will be merged with the corresponding life cycle environmental impacts – such as carbon footprint, air pollution, fertilizer use, and land use – and a food purchasing cost database. The framework will be used to evaluate the performance of 7,000 food items in the US diet, available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). We will test the ability of HENI to inform diet choices.
We will in particular look at cancer outcomes relative to diet, using the Global Burden of Disease risk factors to identify food items that might prevent or promote cancer. We will in addition look in a broader literature review at the nutritional effects and requirements for cancer patients. We will also explore the possibility to use HENI as a predictor for cancer development using the NHANES cohort and mortality data.
Due to the fast pace of life, time and convenience often dictate our dietary choices. Many consumers turn to smartphone applications to improve their lifestyle and health. We will partner with Foodstand, an application that aims to build good eating habits through community powered challenges, to explore how HENI can be used as an empowering and motivational tool so that users meet their daily dietary challenges. This collaboration could result in a new feature on Foodstand that will inform users with the minutes of healthy life gained with the completion of each challenge and educate them on how to further improve their eating habits using science-based data. This feature will be tested in a pilot study that will allow us to study how to best use accounting for behavioral science and decision-making associated with nutritional risks.