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Vente de légumes en frais (tomate, carotte, haricot vert, aubergine, chou-fleur, courgette, poivron, etc) et de fruits (pasteque, orange, citron, banane,etc.) sur un marché de Chypre (Grèce). © INRA, DJACTA Mounia

Relationships between dietary practices, health and sustainability

Updated on 07/18/2017
Published on 03/17/2015

In the past, studies on the relationships between food and health have focused on analysing the properties of nutrients, food and diet (iefood profiles). Only recently has attention been turned to the consequences of dietary practices and eating behaviours on health (snacking, irregular mealtimes, distribution of calorie intake over the course of a day, eating outside the home, cooking methods, organic produce, etc.), in order to understand why we have failed to successfully tackle obesity. Although these are important issues for some people and for public health authorities, our knowledge of the impact of dietary practices on health and well-being amount to almost nothing, and research must be undertaken to explore the risks to individual health and sense of well-being.

INRA seeks to measure the extent to which particular behaviours affect the nutritional quality of diets (for example in terms of calorie intake or the macro-/micro-nutrient balance), in turn allowing researchers to assess the risk to individuals. Research in predictive biology, which evaluates the potential of biomarkers as indicators of metabolic or health patterns, will be carried out, insofar as it integrates behavioural analysis and the effects of food supply (quality, impact of processes, bio-accessibility, etc.), as well as studies on the relationship between practices and exposure to xenobiotics or microbiological agents. Experimental studies in neurophysiology or behavioural psychology will be considered to shed light on brain mechanisms that come into play in the link between food and well-being/pleasure. Special attention will be paid to analysing the effects of consuming animal as opposed to vegetable products.

In industrialised countries, the excessive consumption of animal-based products (meat and dairy), and quantity of waste produced are major factors that add to the environmental toll of dietary practices. In addition to in-depth studies of these factors, research will seek to characterise, from an environmental perspective (carbon emissions, water, biodiversity, contamination, use of resources such as water and land, etc.), consumer habits related to current and emerging modes of production, and to explore alternative food systems. Research will also try to estimate to what degree changes in behaviour and consumer habits can ease the environmental toll.

Likewise, researchers will analyse “organic” food systems, short food circuits, fair trade and alternative eating behaviours.

Special attention will be paid to the issue of reducing animal-based calories, the impact on food balances, possible substitutions and consequences on health and the environment, all the while integrating the socio-economic impact. It will require finding the necessary trade-offs to maintain nutritional balances, and identifying the effects on health that are acceptable from an environmental and economic point of view


The metaprogramme intends to:

  • characterise the impact of practices on health and environment;
  • rate practices from a health and environmental standpoint;
  • evaluate risks and benefits;
  • implement case studies at small-scale regional level for in-depth study of food trajectories or complex factors such as role of social media or regional dynamics.