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The impact of sustainable diets on the future health of children in the UK

Primary Supervisor: Dr Rob Lillywhite, SLS

Secondary supervisor: Dr Oyinlola (Lola) Oyebode, WMS

PhD project title: The impact of sustainable diets on the future health of children in the UK

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

General background

Children’s health is vital to their development and has continuing influence on health in adulthood. A key component to good health is an adequate and nutritionally balanced diet. Unfortunately, UK children are not achieving this with the consequence that one in five children are overweight or obese when starting primary school and one in three when starting secondary school. If these levels of obesity are maintained in adulthood there is an increasing incidence of Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, there are concerns of micronutrient deficiencies, in particular, iron, vitamin C and vitamin D. Improving the health of children through improvements to diet and nutrition are key targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and are typically considered together.

The relationship between food production, diet and sustainability is complicated since food systems can be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental change, so changes to diet can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. The ambition for the SDGs is to develop sustainable diets that are both healthy and have a low environmental impact.

Springmann et al. (2018) reported that current dietary recommendations do not significantly reduce emissions, so a better understanding of the trade-offs between food production, diet and environmental impact is required to allow more sustainable diets to be developed. Aleksandrowicz et al. (2016) investigated sustainable diets in terms of population health but children-specific nutritional needs remain under-evaluated. If healthy, nutritionally-balanced and sustainable diets are to be developed and recommended at society level, these two dilemmas need be to resolved. This proposal targets children’s diet and health as there is little robust evidence available.

Understanding the health effects of sustainable diets on children will help aid new recommendations and policies. Innovative policy development is essential across all policy levels to reduce emissions and tackle climate change (Willet et al., 2019). These policies will must be equitable to ensure inequalities are not worsened.


The aim of the research is to investigate the trade-offs between food production, diet, environmental impacts and children’s health and to develop policy and practice initiatives that might have positive impacts on the environment and child health in the UK.

The research objectives of this project are:

  1. To investigate the relationship between food production, diets and environmental impact
  2. To investigate the relationship between diet and children’s health
  3. To identify, quantify and evaluate the trade-offs between food production, diet, environmental impact and children’s health
  4. To develop policy and practice initiatives that might have positive impacts on the environment and child health in the UK


This research requires collaboration with agricultural, environmental, medical and social science workers. Objectives 1, 2 and 3 rely on the existing academic and grey literature to identify and quantify the relationships between the research parameters. Objective 4 will require collaboration with dietary and public health researchers to investigate diets that are acceptable to children. This will rely on individual interviews and focus groups. Objective 5 will require liaison with policymakers. It is envisaged that this is predominantly a dry project but one that will require considerable collaboration across different disciplines.


  1. Aleksandrowicz, L., Green, R., Joy, E.J.. M., Smith, P. and Haines, A. 2016. The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE. 11(11), pp.1–16.
  2. Marmot, M. 2010. Fair Society, Healthy Lives The Marmot Review. [Accessed 24 May 2020]. Available from:
  3. Springmann, M., Wiebe, K., Mason-D’Croz, D., Sulser, T.B., Rayner, M. and Scarborough, P. 2018. Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2(10), pp.451–461.
  4. Willet, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., Garnett, T., Tilman, D., DeClerck, F., Wood, A., Jonell, M., Clark, M., Gordon, L.J., Fanzo, J., Hawkes, C., Zurayk, R., Rivera, J.A., DeVries, W., Sibanda, L.M., Afshin, A., Chaudhary, A., Herrero, M., Agustina, R., Branca, F., Lartey, A., Fan, S., Crona, B., Fox, E., Bignet, V., Troell, M., Lindahl, T., Singh, S., Cornell, S.E., Reddy, K.S., Narain, S., Nishtar, S. and Murray, C.J.L. 2019. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet. 393, pp.447–492.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant and Crop Science. Integrated Understanding of Health: Diet and Health.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Evidence collation, review and evaluation
  • Engagement with researchers from different disciplines
  • Data collection through interview and focus groups
  • Computation and mathematical optimisation of multiple parameters
  • Policy evaluation

Contact: Dr Rob Lillywhite, University of Warwick