Food Systems


As developing countries continue to urbanise and populations become wealthier, people’s diets can begin to change; tending to shift towards resource-intensive foods such as meats and dairy (1). At the same time, investment in technology, economic growth and implementation of government policies can alter entire food chains allowing multinational agri-businesses and food manufacturers to increasingly influence change how food is being grown and consumed (2). 

This convergence towards a more western style diet has significant implications, not only for population health, but also the health of the planet as we continue to deplete resources. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisations (FAO) have projected that the world will need to close a 70% ‘food gap’ between the calories currently available from crops, and the expected demand for calories in 2050 (3), thus the world’s food system is currently facing a great balancing act.

Until now, efforts to sustainably feed a growing and increasingly affluent population have been focused on increasing food production, rather than addressing consumption. Whilst some would argue that if adopting modern methods and technologies allowed agriculture production to triple during the first Green Revolution, what is stopping a second revolution?

Yet given that global crop yields would need to grow over 30% more quickly than they did during the first Green Revolution, focusing on production alone to close this ‘food gap’ would put enormous pressure on planetary resources in order to further expand crop and pastureland (4). It would also make it increasingly harder to achieve the UNs Sustainable Development Goals surrounding water management and climate change (5). Given the magnitude and environmental implications of this global challenge, it will also be critical to expand the focus to shifting towards sustainable consumption patterns in the coming decades (6). 

Currently, 50% of the world’s population consumes a nutritionally imbalanced diet either through overconsumption, hunger and micronutrient malnutrition (7). Thus, shifting to a more sustainable, and nutritionally balanced diet could have a positive impact on global food security, human health, healthcare costs, and natural resources as well as animal welfare.

The Society’s 2021 Summer Conference considered the challenges faced by nutrition professionals and nutrition research in a changing world.

Delegates had the opportunity to learn about climate change as it relates to diet and food systems, and the agricultural and dietary behaviour changes required to sustainably feed the growing world population. This was discussed in the context of the continuing need to meet the more specific nutritional needs of an aging population, addressing the growing issues of food poverty and dietary inequalities, and raising awareness of the importance of preconception nutrition for lifelong health.

Find out more about the conference in the overview


  1. Vermeulen, S.J., Park, T., Khoury, C.K. and Béné, C. (2020). Changing diets and the transformation of the global food system. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.1478: 3-17.
  2. Floros, J. D., R. Newsome, and W. Fisher. (2010). “Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 9: 572–599. 
  3. Alexandratos, N., and J. Bruinsma. (2012). World agriculture towards 2030/2050: The 2012 revision. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 
  4. Arcand, Y., D. Maxime, and R. Zareifard. (2012). “Life cycle assessment of processed food.” In J. I. Boye and Y. Arcand (eds.) Green Technologies in Food Production and Processing. New York: Springer US. 
  5. Bruinsma, J. 2009. The Resource Outlook to 2050: By how much do land, water and crop yields need to increase by 2050? Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 
  6. Eini-Zinab, H., Sobhani, S., & Rezazadeh, A. (2020). Designing a healthy, low-cost and environmentally sustainable food basket: An optimisation study. Public Health Nutrition, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S1368980020003729
  7. FAO, WFP, and IFAD (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Food Programme, and International Fund for Agricultural Development). (2012). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012. Economic growth is necessary but notsufficient to accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition. Rome: FAO. 

First published in the Complete Nutrition Magazine