Connecting food, well-being and environmental sustainability: towards an integrative public health nutrition

Sandra Carlisle, Phil Hanlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Modern society has no shortage of human nutrition science, nor interventions
designed to improve the way we eat. Yet nutrition science, and the models,
approaches and interventions derived from this, is apparently delivering
diminishing returns in terms of population weight gain, unhealthy eating patterns and the obesity ‘epidemic’. We draw on a range of literature(s) to argue
that public health nutritionists in affluent societies face an ingenuity gap – a
series of complex and inter-connected challenges which are neither fully
recognised nor easily amenable to resolution through conventional thinking
and practice. Four such challenges are: nutritionism; economism; consumerism
and individualism. We use an integrative framework to explain their
significance for public health nutrition, where they exert a combined and
compounding influence. In addition to these problems, insights from other
disciplines show that ‘modern’ society and some of its key characteristics are
linked to increasing environmental threats. The latter undermine food security
and the sustainability of society itself, and possess global impact. For public
health nutrition to be situated in and responsive to this broader context, the
discipline will need a better understanding of the relationship between modern
society, food choice and environmental sustainability. As ‘healthy eating’ may
not be an achievable goal within the present social, economic and cultural
system, public health nutrition has a unique and vital role to play in shaping
change for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-417
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

This paper derives from work funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme, ‘Food, Land and People’, which is managed by the Rural and Environmental Statistical Analytical Services (RESAS) division. The authors acknowledge the helpful comments on an earlier draft made by Dr Flora Douglas of the Public Health Nutrition Research Group at the University of Aberdeen. We also express our appreciation for the time and care, evident in the recommendations for changes to the paper, given by our reviewers. Remaining flaws are entirely the responsibility of the authors.


  • public health nutrition
  • environmental sustainability
  • wellbeing


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