Tracking progress toward a climate-friendly public food service strategy: assessing nutritional quality and carbon footprint changes in childcare centers

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Abstract

Background: Public food procurement and catering are recognized as important leverage points in promoting sustainable and healthy dietary habits. This study aimed to analyze changes in nutritional quality and carbon footprint (CF) of food service in childcare centers in the City of Copenhagen from 2018 to 2022, following a new climate-friendly food strategy in 2019. The strategy has a target of decreasing the CF of municipal food service by 25% before 2025 compared to a 2018 baseline.

Methods:
Key initiatives in the municipality's strategy included creating guidelines for food-service providers to reduce their CF while ensuring meal nutritional quality and providing food professionals an advisory process to develop necessary competencies.
In this quasi-experimental study, food procurement data from Copenhagen's childcare centers (n = 356 [2022]) from 2018 and 2022 were combined with CF and nutrient composition data. Dietary CF and food and nutrient content were calculated per 10 MJ of energy and compared to guideline targets. Furthermore, data for 2022 were analyzed separately for institutions that had received an advisory process (n = 87) and those that had not yet (n = 269).

Results:
On average, the CF of the food procurement decreased by 15%, mainly driven by a decrease in ruminant meat purchases (-37%). While the procurement of plant-based protein sources (pulses, nuts, seeds) increased by 25%, it was still considerably below targets. Nutrient content did not substantially change, and recommendations for calcium, iron, vitamin D, sodium, and total and saturated fat were not met in either measurement year. Institutions that had received an advisory process had a 14% lower CF in 2022 than institutions that had not.

Conclusions:
With the observed 15% CF reduction, Copenhagen's childcare centers are on track to reach the 25% reduction goal outlined in the municipality's food strategy by 2025. Nutritional quality was largely unchanged, but further efforts to increase especially the consumption of plant-based protein sources, while simultaneously reducing meat and animal-based fat, and maintaining sufficient dairy consumption, are needed to improve nutritional quality and reach the target CF reduction in the coming years. Providing training for food professionals could play an important role in seeing the changes through.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalNutrition Journal
Volume23
Issue number1
Number of pages13
ISSN1475-2891
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Keywords

  • Public food procurement
  • Public food service
  • Sustainable diets
  • Childcare
  • Carbon footprint

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