WHO / Catharina de Kat-Reynen
People need to know how to eat healthily, but also how to make their diets more climate-friendly. For the first time ever, this important idea will be reflected in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) for 2022.
The NNR guidelines aim to improve diets in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and to inspire countries beyond the Nordic region to consider sustainability aspects as part of their dietary guidelines.
Protecting our health and the environment
Like elsewhere in the WHO European Region, current dietary patterns in the Nordic countries do not meet WHO recommendations on healthy eating, nor are they on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on sustainable consumption and production. Many different factors can limit people’s choice of diet, and the current policy environment does not facilitate healthy and sustainable eating.
To change this trend, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden decided to update the NNR. The NNR are developed by nutrition and food systems experts in these countries, and build upon the latest scientific data while taking WHO recommendations into account.
“The document is a set of guidelines for consumers, food producers and public sector institutions that can help in creating a universal regional nutritional system that brings health and the environment together for a better future,” says Professor Rune Blomhoff of the University of Oslo, who leads the working group developing the NNR.
Sustainability as a priority
For the first time, the NNR for 2022 will fully integrate sustainability criteria into guidelines for dietary composition and recommended intake of nutrients. This reflects an overall trend in the Nordic region, where some national governments are already starting to take environmental impacts into consideration when choosing nutrition policies.
For example, in January 2021, the Danish Government updated their dietary guidelines to encourage people to eat healthy as well as climate-friendly diets. These guidelines suggest, for instance, eating a varied diet rich in plants, consuming less meat and eating more legumes.
The new version of the NNR will provide an example of how countries can cooperate by sharing scientific data and best policy practices for the benefit of a whole region.
A win-win situation for policy-makers
Experts from the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office) took part in a webinar entitled “From science and guidelines to food system transformation” in September 2021, which focused on revising the NNR and shaping efficient nutrition policies for Member States. The discussion was hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“The promotion of healthy and sustainable diets is becoming a greater priority for many Member States. Sometimes we have seen that prime ministers are more attracted to the climate agenda than the nutrition agenda, and so health ministries and public health authorities find that joining these 2 agendas will lead to a win-win situation,” says Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the NCD Office.
It is expected that the NNR guidelines will inspire countries beyond the Nordic region to consider sustainability aspects in their dietary guidelines.
Inspiring other Member States
In 2019, the NCD Office organized a meeting of experts investigating dietary patterns in the WHO European Region. At the event, Member States shared their needs and ideas for collaboration, while participants from WHO collaborating centres and other interdisciplinary experts discussed how to support countries in formulating national and Europe-wide dietary guidelines that consider both human and planetary health.
This meeting laid the foundation for the NCD Office’s current and future work in this area. A follow-up meeting was held in 2021. Currently, the NCD Office is working on multiple topics relating to healthy and sustainable diets, including dietary modelling, public procurement and food-profiling models.
“The Office has been progressing several workstreams to support countries requesting greater clarity on how to change dietary patterns and facilitate knowledge-sharing,” says Dr Afton Halloran, a consultant working on healthy and sustainable diets at the NCD Office. “The example of the revised Nordic Nutrition Recommendations demonstrates that sustainability criteria can be incorporated into nutritional guidelines. It provides an example that can inspire other Member States in the WHO European Region.”