PhD defence

Healthy plates for a healthy planet: identifying opportunities and challenges for China

PhD candidate H (Hongyi) Cai
Promotor P (Pieter) van 't Veer
Co-promotor S (Sander) Biesbroek PhD EF (Elise) Talsma
Organisation Wageningen University, Global Nutrition

Tue 27 August 2024 16:00 to 17:30

Venue Omnia, building number 105
Hoge Steeg 2
6708 PH Wageningen
+31 (0) 317 - 484500
Room Auditorium


This thesis explores the synergies and trade-offs of dietary sustainability indicators in China, focusing on quality, environmental impact, and costs. Adhering to the Chinese Dietary Guidelines involves a trade-off between dietary quality and environmental impact, unlike in high-income countries where mainly synergies are observed. Despite the environmental benefits of cutting down meat consumption, the need to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and dairy partially offsets these gains. Adherence to the EAT-Lancet diet correlates with reduced environmental impacts. The dietary quality, environmental impact, and cost of diets in China are influenced by socio-demographic factors. For instance, higher education was associated with better dietary quality but also higher environmental impact and costs. Conversely, lower-income groups tend towards cheaper, low diet quality, plant-based diets, resulting in lower environmental impact. Urban areas generally exhibited higher dietary quality, environmental impact and costs of diets. In less urbanized areas, the growth rate in dietary environmental impact and costs over time surpassed that of more urbanized regions. Factors such as reliance on convenience foods and animal-based foods contributed to the highest environmental impacts in metropolitan areas.
Although China has lower per capita dietary environmental impacts compared to high-income countries, its overall diet-related impacts remain the highest globally. Therefore, implementation of sustainable diets in China requires comprehensive strategies, with the government taking the lead. Future revisions of Chinese Dietary Guidelines should prioritize the integration of dietary quality, environmental sustainability, and affordability. Furthermore, they can be refined by e.g. distinguishing between types of meat and their consumption levels. Collaboration among various government departments, including the Chinese Nutrition Society and ministries of Agriculture, Finance, and Natural Resources, is essential for crafting comprehensive policies that balance health and environmental considerations. Finally, because of the heterogeneity in dietary habits, addressing sustainable diets need to ensure effectiveness, cultural sensitivity, economic feasibility, by aligning policies with the unique characteristics of each region and demographic group.