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PLOS ONE  2013 

Foods and Dietary Patterns That Are Healthy, Low-Cost, and Environmentally Sustainable: A Case Study of Optimization Modeling for New Zealand

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059648

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Objective Global health challenges include non-communicable disease burdens, ensuring food security in the context of rising food prices, and environmental constraints around food production, e.g., greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. We therefore aimed to consider optimized solutions to the mix of food items in daily diets for a developed country population: New Zealand (NZ). Methods We conducted scenario development and linear programming to model 16 diets (some with uncertainty). Data inputs included nutrients in foods, food prices, food wastage and food-specific GHG emissions. Findings This study identified daily dietary patterns that met key nutrient requirements for as little as a median of NZ$ 3.17 per day (US$ 2.41/d) (95% simulation interval [SI] = NZ$ 2.86 to 3.50/d). Diets that included “more familiar meals” for New Zealanders, increased the cost. The optimized diets also had low GHG emission profiles compared with the estimate for the ‘typical NZ diet’ e.g., 1.62 kg CO2e/d for one scenario (95%SI = 1.39 to 1.85 kg CO2e) compared with 10.1 kg CO2e/d, respectively. All of the optimized low-cost and low-GHG dietary patterns had likely health advantages over the current NZ dietary pattern, i.e., lower cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. Conclusions We identified optimal foods and dietary patterns that would lower the risk of non-communicable diseases at low cost and with low greenhouse gas emission profiles. These results could help guide central and local government decisions around which foods to focus policies on. That is which foods are most suitable for: food taxes (additions and exemptions); healthy food vouchers and subsidies; and for increased use by public institutions involved in food preparation.


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