On September 4-6, 2019, the Planetary Health Annual Meeting was held at Stanford University and included researchers, policy makers, practitioners, health professionals and community leaders across multiple disciplines to share research and expertise on climate change, human health and food systems. The global lens of the event brought together attendees and speakers from more than 35 countries, with many echoing the value of storytelling to achieve policy changes.
Event partners included the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Rockefeller Foundation, Wellcome Trust, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and The Lancet Planetary Health journal. A diverse range of topics were discussed, from non-communicable diseases and dietary patterns, to university funding structures and the need for regenerative systems.
To affect impactful change, start locally, grow globally and establish clear channels for diffusion of innovation and learnings.
- Many speakers focused on the effectiveness of social action for change. Samuel Myers, research scientist at Harvard Department of Environmental Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, opened a session by stating that the “Challenges we face are not only knowledge problems, they are power problems. Power problems require social action.”
There is a need for a broader focus on planetary health beyond just climate and public health.
- Several speakers mentioned the need for tailored approaches for lower income populations and particularly vulnerable populations.
- The UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are the North Star for many people working in these fields. The UN SDGs focus on many aspects of sustainability and can provide a useful lens for groups to work more comprehensively toward improving planetary health.
There is a need for greater urgency in transforming the food system to help mitigate climate change, reduce obesity and non-communicable disease (NCD) risk, and improve sustainable food supplies.
- The global impact of the food system are significant and climate change can lower crop yields and nutrient content of certain crops.
- The EAT-Lancet recommendations were frequently noted during sessions on dietary recommendations, including an emphasis on increasing plant food intake. However, audience members brought up the fact that animal-source foods are a nutrient dense option for many populations.
- Several speakers discussed the continued push for reduced consumption of ultra-processed foods.
There is a need for a population-specific approach to a planetary-health diet to address NCDs and environmental degradation.
- Incorporating sustainability into more aspects of food and nutrition, including country-specific dietary guidelines, may be a way to shine a spotlight on diets that are good for people and the planet.
Social norms and the “growth at any cost” mentality are underpinning the failure of world leaders to act on climate change. The private sector can play a large role, but policy is needed to drive deep, long-standing change.
- The degradation of air, water and land are linked to rises in food insecurity, NCDs and infectious diseases, and governments must acknowledge this on a wider scale. Collaboration amongst the public and private sector is critical to drive market shifts.
* Please note: the key themes and takeaways noted were focus points of discussion and presentations; they do not necessarily reflect FoodMinds’ point of view.
Carla Curle, MS, is an account executive at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla. She’s based in San Francisco, CA.
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