How can healthy, sustainable diets be accessible and appealing? We explore how Copenhagen residents navigate their food environments, what shapes their food practices, and what they’d like to change. 

For the attention of: Those in charge of Copenhagen’s food strategy and food strategies in other cities worldwide. International and national food NGOs.

The problem: Poor diets are both the leading cause of morbidity and mortality globally, while also being a key driver of climate change. While efforts have been made to design a global diet that is good for both people and planet (the Eat-Lancet reference diet), this diet does not take into account different eating norms in different places nor how they might affect uptake.

What we did and why: To understand how people in one Copenhagen neighbourhood navigated their food environments and explore the implications for bringing diets in line with the Eat-Lancet reference diet, we designed a photo-elicitation study. Over three weeks, participants took photos of their food environments and the facilitators and barriers to healthy eating. They attended workshops where they discussed these photos and reflected on how a healthy and sustainable diet might be facilitated.

Our study adds:

  • Insights into the different factors that shape people’s food purchasing and consumption and how they interact with each other.
  • Insights into how the food environment might need to be adapted so that foods that fit in with a healthy and sustainable diet are affordable, appealing, and accessible.
  • Insights that are grounded in the lived experiences and critical reflections of people living and eating in one neighbourhood of Copenhagen.

Implications for city policy and practice: Adapting the Eat-Lancet reference diet to local circumstances  requires a deep understanding of how and where people acquire food, and what other roles food plays in people’s lives. To reshape diets, what is available in the food environment must match what fits in with pre-existing practices and values.

Policy makers must understand the non-monetary benefits that food environments bring to people, such as providing time for other activities or promoting broader wellbeing through social engagement.

For further information:

EAT-Lancet: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health

Full research article: Gathering data on food environments and food practices through photo elicitation in Copenhagen, Denmark: Implications for adapting the EAT-LANCET reference diet to local circumstances by Anna Isaacs, Mark Spires, Afton Halloran & Thomas Stridsland.