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Safe, healthy and sustainable diets in the Netherlands: opportunities for integrated policy

Publication date: 25 January 2017
Modificationdate: 31 January 2017

The Netherlands aims to take the lead in the international ambition for a healthy, sustainable and safe dietary pattern. To achieve this aim an integral policy is required, in which safety, health and sustainability are taken into account. Research by RIVM analyses the opportunities and dilemmas for an integrated food policy.

The report "What is on our plate? Safe, healthy and sustainable diets in the Netherlands” presents  facts and figures about the Dutch dietary pattern. RIVM also analysed where sustainable, healthy and safe food can strengthen each other and how this can be done.

This report underpins the objectives of the Dutch government to achieve a safer, healthier and more sustainable food system, as described in the ‘Food Agenda’ which was sent to parliament in November 2016.The researchers point out that an active role of the government is required, and cooperation with the agricultural sector, businesses, citizens and social organizations is necessary. Not only do consumers need to be well informed, but a healthier and more sustainable food supply is also needed. Dutch society has sufficient social ambitions, entrepreneurship and innovation capacity to realise a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern, while ensuring food safety.

Opportunities


Avoiding overconsumption, a diet with more plant-based and less animal-based products, and less sugar-containing and alcoholic drinks: these constitute three opportunities for a healthier and more sustainable diet. Taking advantage of these opportunities will lower the number of chronically ill, reduce health inequalities and contain the impact of food production on the environment. Lower meat consumption is, moreover, associated with a lower rate of food infections.

The researchers show that most Dutch people are healthy and life expectancy is growing. Simultaneously, half of the Dutch population is overweight and this rate is even higher in lower socioeconomic groups. In addition, 9 out of 10 people eat too little fruit and vegetables, and nearly 30 percent of our food is of animal origin. The diet of an average Dutch person does not only lead to health losses, but also constitutes a major burden on the environment. It results in greenhouse gas emissions comparable to transport emissions. The annual food waste is 47 kilogram per person. Food in the Netherlands is mostly safe: approximately 1 in 24 people a year have a food infection, which usually is not serious. Most chemicals in food pose a negligible risk to public health. The Netherlands aims to take the lead in the international ambition for a healthy, sustainable and safe dietary pattern. To achieve this aim an integral policy is required, in which safety, health and sustainability are taken into account.

Dilemmas


There are however dilemmas to be faced. Not all measures related to a healthy diet are sustainable and safe, and vice versa. For example, it is eco-friendly if every part of an animal is used for consumption. This also implies the consumption of processed meat, such as sausage, which in itself is less healthy. Moreover, there is a tension between abstract, long-term goals (healthier, more sustainable and safe) and concrete choices in everyday life. Many citizens and businesses consider health and sustainability to be important, but when shopping for food, consumers’ choices are primarily determined by price and convenience. Companies, in turn, want to serve these consumers and make a profit.

Strategic Programme RIVM


This research was carried out in the framework of RIVM Strategic Programme (SPR), in which expertise and innovative projects prepare RIVM to respond to future issues in health and sustainability.

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