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2 Promoting resilient and sustainable health and food systems
  1. Luz Maria De-Regil1,
  2. Marjorie Rafaela Lima do Vale2,
  3. Lina Mahy1,
  4. Nitya Rao3,
  5. Narindra Andriamahefalison4,
  6. Sterling Crew5,
  7. Jørgen T Johnsen2,
  8. Jorja Collins6,
  9. Victoria Haldane7,
  10. James Bradfield2 and
  11. David Nabarro1,8
  1. 1Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Switzerland
  2. 2NNEdPro Global Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3School of International Development, University East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  4. 4Act4Food Act4Change (Geneva, Switzerland)
  5. 5Food Authenticity Network LGC Limited, Middlesex, UK
  6. 6Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
  7. 7Emerging Leaders for Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare (ELESH), Toronto, Canada
  8. 84SD Skills, Systems & Synergies for Sustainable Development, Geneva, Switzerland


Food systems are a complex web of actors and activities involved from farm to fork on aspects of food production, processing, distribution, preparation, consumption and ultimately the management of food waste. Food systems and the choices made by food system actors are contributing to detrimental impacts on animal, human and planetary health including losses in biodiversity, exhaustion of natural resources, zoonoses, foodborne illness and occupational hazards (figure 1). Current food systems are also failing to protect individuals’ and communities’ food security, good nutrition, and health. Health systems also have an impact on climate change and natural resources degradation. For instance, if health systems were a country it would rank among the top 5 in terms of carbon emissions, with an estimated contribution of 4.4%.

Abstract 2 Figure 1

The five interconnected and interrelated impact pathways through which food systems negatively affect human health. Source: WHO (2021). Executive Summary Food systems delivering better health. WHO: Geneva

Research has shown that there is an appetite to connect and transform food and health systems. For example, hospital settings can consider the use of locally grown foods, offer plant-based meals, use water and energy-saving kitchens and divert food waste from landfill. Realizing these activities can be achieved through policy action by making changes in legislation, by ensuring organisational culture and leadership, and by creating networks and champions for environmentally sustainable practices in health system settings. There is also an opportunity to integrate environmental sustainability in health systems teaching and research.

Lessons from fighting the Covid-19 pandemic could be applied towards reducing food and health system impacts on climate, such as i) developing a clear understanding of the problem, of potentially effective solutions and identifying those interests are being prioritised, ii) start tackling the problem from areas making the largest contributions or being affected the most, and iii) knowing that shifting people’s behaviour is at the core of any solution. Transformed food and health systems must be contextually relevant, resilient, regenerative, empowering, and with health at their centre. Bold government, community, and business actions that promote interdisciplinarity, collaboration and capacity building are key aspects to be considered.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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