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Sustainable Food
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Nordic Experience...

Finland, Sweden and Norway have introduce a public health dimension to their food supply in order to reduce the incidence of diet-related disease and illness.

Norway in 1975 set out to ensure that nutritional considerations influence food availability, including food production, processing and trading. The official Nutrition and Food Policy was designed to combat the incidences of cardiovascular disease which accounted for around half of all deaths.

Farmers saw the value of adapting to the emerging diet-health paradigm and helped introduce an effective national food policy that linked policies on agricultural, food processing, consumers, health and rural affairs. The first set of national dietary goals or guidelines were compiled by a group of Nordic nutrition professors and published in Swedish in 1969 but they only became official government policies years later.

The main goal was to reduce the proportion of fat in the diet from 40 to 35 percent of the energy supply (achieved in 1991). A fall in the number of deaths due to coronary heart disease has occurred, although it is difficult to find the extent to which these changes are attributable to dietary changes alone.

In the early 1970s, Finland had the highest recorded coronary mortality in the world. The North Karelia region was worst. The Finnish government and health services set out to tackle this cost. The project targeted smoking, blood pressure control and diet, and started preventive activities throughout the country.

Over two decades, the dietary intake of Finns has been monitored and has recorded a big increase in vegetable consumption, at one point doubling in a decade. Fruit and berry consumption also increased “remarkably”. The proportion of saturated fats in total fat consumption declined, while fish consumption rose.

A 55% decline in Finnish male mortality has been recorded in the period 1972-92; changes have been even greater for women. All this health improvement occurred without the need for extra resource allocation. The secret has been close integration between health and other agencies, for instance once dietary guidelines were designed for schools (for use in lunches), while others were developed and implemented for other social groups ranging from day-care facilities for old people to armed forces.

Sweden’s involvement with food hygiene stemmed from a food crisis. It took a tough stance because of a dreadful bout of salmonella which killed 100 people in the early 1950s. This led to the setting up of its National Food Administration and much more effort to link good, safe production with high health standards. It is now virtually clear of salmonella.

More in WHO Intersectoral Food & Nutrition Development (pdf) (one of our Directors is a co-author...)

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