Accounting for nutrition-related health impacts in food life cycle assessment: insights from an expert workshop

Laura Scherer*, Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, Zach Conrad, Victor L. Fulgoni,, John C. Mathers, Jolieke C. van der Pols, Walter Willett, Peter Fantke, Stephan Pfister, Katerina S. Stylianou, Bo P. Weidema, Llorenç Milà i Canals, Olivier Jolliet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debateResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Sub-optimal dietary patterns make major contributions to the Global Burden of Disease and are among the most pressing issues affecting human health. Consequently, they are key to consider when assessing the human health and other environmental impacts of foods and diets within life cycle assessments. The UN Environment Life Cycle Initiative convened a task force on nutrition-related human health impacts as part of the Global Life Cycle Impact Assessment Method (GLAM) project. The health impacts of dietary patterns can be expressed in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), in line with reporting human health impacts of other impact categories within the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) framework. The task force held a workshop with nutrition experts to receive guidance in its process to develop a consensus-based impact assessment framework for addressing nutrition-related health impacts in LCIA. The workshop aimed to (1) evaluate the general assessment framework, (2) discuss scientific questions for quantifying human health impacts from nutrition for food items and diets, and (3) provide initial guidance for further development. The proposed framework based on the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) risk ratios was regarded as a good starting point to assess the relative health risks of the general population, provided that the dietary context is considered and several limitations, such as incomplete disease coverage, are acknowledged. The experts advised against a potentially misleading use of adult-derived dietary risk factors for children. To improve global coverage of the GLAM framework, it is important to consider a wider range of dietary patterns. The experts also recommended using a metric complementary to DALYs, such as nutrient adequacy, also considering, e.g., vitamin A and iron, to complement the assessment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume29
Pages (from-to)953-966
Number of pages14
ISSN0948-3349
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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