Sustainable Healthy Diets Through Food Systems Transformation


Food systems are not providing sustainable healthy diets for everyone, everywhere. Healthy diets are unaffordable for 3 billion people, and poor quality diets are associated with all forms of malnutrition and 11 million premature adult deaths each year.

Diets are rapidly evolving due to changes in income, women’s employment, urbanization, and developments in technology, food marketing and public policy. These changes, happening in urban and rural areas, contribute to shifts in food environments, which are increasingly promoting ready-to-eat, convenient, cheap and often ultra-processed foods associated with poor health.


This Initiative aims to identify effective policy options through research, strengthen capacity, and develop robust metrics and tools that support stakeholders’ decisions when developing pathways to transform food systems toward sustainable healthy diets, improved livelihoods, gender equity and social inclusiveness.


This objective will be accomplished through:

  • Understanding consumers and their food environments: Characterizing food consumption and dietary patterns among marginalized populations and identifying key drivers and inequalities, including between genders. This will inform the co-design, testing and evaluation of scalable innovations in the food environment-consumer nexus.
  • Generating knowledge about micro, small and medium food-related enterprises and informal actors, and identifying and promoting scalable, evidence-based innovations and policies to help those actors increase their delivery of sustainable nutritious foods while promoting increased decent employment among youth, men and women.
  • Governance and political economy of food system transformation: Identifying the lock-ins and barriers that impede food system contributions to healthy diets, fair livelihoods and sustainable environments; and proposing contextualized and evidence-informed governance and policy solutions.
  • Trade-off scenario analysis: Developing, testing and applying decision-support tools for trade-off scenario analyses, and using those tools to raise the awareness and improve the capacity of stakeholders to understand and navigate the potential trade-offs or tensions that are expected to emerge from food system innovations and policies.
  • Catalyzing food system transformation at country level: Identifying, co-designing and supporting context-specific pathways for food system transformation toward sustainable healthy diets.


This Initiative will work in the following countries: Bangladesh, Benin, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Senegal and Vietnam.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Stakeholders initiate implementation of at least two innovations or policies to increase the demand for sustainable healthy diets, especially among women, children, youth and other marginalized groups.
  2. Stakeholders initiate implementation of at least two solutions to improve the ability of micro, small and medium enterprises and informal businesses to deliver sustainable nutritious foods and create inclusive income opportunities for women, youth and other marginalized groups.
  3. Stakeholders show a significant increase in their understanding and ability to engage in governance and political economy issues around the transformation of their food systems.
  4. One decision-support tool per country is developed and applied to raise stakeholders’ awareness and improve their capacity to navigate trade-offs among food systems outcomes related to inclusion, sustainability, climate change, food safety and diet quality.
  5. One stakeholder coalition per country commits to implementing a national roadmap toward food system transformation for sustainable healthy diets.
  6. Stakeholders initiate the implementation of at least two innovations or policies to address issues related to gender equality, youth and social inclusion in food systems in all target countries.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


Improved diet quality and safety, and an increase in the number of people in target countries who demand and can afford and consume a sustainable healthy diet, thereby contributing to reducing the burden of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, diet-related non-communicable diseases, and foodborne illnesses. This will result in an additional 74 million people across 8 countries meeting their minimum dietary energy requirements.


New evidence and solutions to enhance employment among micro, small and medium enterprises and informal actors in the food system, including wholesalers, processors, caterers and retailers, benefit 9.8 million people across 8 countries.


Evidence generated to address unequal access to healthy diets, employment, and income and the inequitable processes and policies that create them, while focusing on poverty, gender, and youth, and on how aspects of marginalization interact in different contexts benefits 3.8 million women across 8 countries.


Potential contributions to greenhouse gas emission reductions through shaping food demand through policy frameworks that incorporate climate considerations into trade-off analysis, and through reduced food loss and waste, benefit 68.7 million people.


Potential contributions through policy frameworks, the incorporation of environmental considerations into trade-off analysis, and increased demand for sustainably produced, biodiverse food brings 11.8 million hectares of land under improved management.


Sustainable, Healthy Diets for All Will Require a Food System Transformation

For more details, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: A villager topping a pot in Malawi. Photo by IFPRI.