Go to content

1. Introduction

In June 2023, the sixth edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR2023) was released. The NNR2023 is a comprehensive set of research-based recommendations to the Nordic national authorities and forms the scientific foundation for all dietary guidelines offered by the Nordic countries. For the first time, the NNR2023 consider both nutritional and environmental aspects of food consumption.
The extended focus on environmental aspects of food consumption in NNR2023 is a recognition of the challenges in the current food system that cause significant environmental harm globally. Changes throughout the entire food system are needed, including changing dietary choices, and eating habits. It is well known that eating habits and attitudes toward food are shaped by numerous factors. One significant factor is the food environment, which includes both the social and physical surroundings where people live (European Commission 2020). The supply of food, the accessibility of food, how it is marketed, and societal and cultural norms play crucial roles within the food environment. These factors are mainly external to the individual. However, education level, income and gender also wield considerable influence over a person’s food consumption behaviour.
The current food behaviour of consumers in the Nordic countries does not comply with neither health nor environmental recommendations (Blomhoff et al. 2023; Gorski and Roberto 2015; Lemming and Pitsi 2022). Consequently, there is a need to understand how behavioural change may be achieved in the Nordic countries. Several barriers for changing people’s behaviour have been identified, and these include individual resistance, the prevailing food culture, existing policies, transaction costs, vested interests, geographical location, and a perceived shortage of research (Wood et al. 2019). At the heart of these barriers lies the fact that food is an inherently interdisciplinary topic, intricately linked to our personal lives and deeply rooted in our social and cultural backgrounds. The current food environment is also supported by a comprehensive economic structure and accompanying infrastructure, and effecting change necessitates engagement at various levels, involving stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, as well as civil society.
Research indicates that placing the responsibility solely on individuals to eat healthy and sustainably has less impact compared to creating an enabling environment that provides easy access to affordable, delicious, and nutritious food (Blomhoff et al. 2023; Lemming and Pitsi 2022; Wood et al. 2019). These points, among others, were also highlighted during a workshop organised by the project on 29th March 2023, which brought together key stakeholders and experts in the field to discuss the transition towards a healthy and sustainable food future (Strömgård 2023). Behaviour changes are essential for this transition. Policymakers can support changes in individual behaviour through the implementation of policy instruments and actions. Therefore, this report examines various policy instruments and actions available to guide dietary shifts towards healthier and more sustainable diets. To guide this work, we have three project questions:
    What factors influence individual’s dietary choices and behaviours; and how do they interact with public policy interventions towards better diets?  
    How can insights into the factors influencing behaviour guide and inform interventions by policy instruments that encourage healthier dietary habits?
    What policies and actions can be effective tools to enable behavioural change among Nordic citizens to adopt better diets?
    While recognizing the significant impact of the broader food environment on behaviour change, including food production processes and methods that enhance health through the supply of diverse and natural foods (e.g., less processed foods), this report primarily focuses on the consumption side of the food system. It discusses policy instruments that the state and other public actors could introduce to facilitate behaviour change towards better diets. Our approach to address these questions begins with identifying the discrepancies between current food consumption patterns and the recommendations set forth by the NNR2023. We then present a behaviour framework to illustrate how various determinants influence our dietary choices. This is followed by an overview of policy instruments and actions that can support healthy and sustainable food consumption. Finally, we link the behaviour framework with the policy instruments to demonstrate how policy instruments may lead to behaviour change.
    Based on the findings of this report and project, we develop five recommendations for policymakers to enhance public health and environmental sustainability throughout the Nordic Region.

    Glossary and concepts

    This glossary includes terms commonly used in different chapters of the report.
    Behavioural change A behavioural change can be a temporary or permanent effect that is considered a change in an individual's behaviour when compared to previous behaviour (Darnton 2008).
    Body Mass Index (BMI) BMI is a frequently used measure that uses a person’s height and weight to indicate if the person’s weight is healthy. The measure is a number based on a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A BMI between 18.5 to 24.9 is considered within the normal range.
    Food consumption The act of using, eating, or drinking something (Cambridge Dictionary).
    Nordic countries/regions The Nordic countries (also known as the Nordics or Norden; lit. 'the North') are a geographical and cultural region in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic. It includes the sovereign states of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden; the autonomous territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland; and the autonomous region of Åland.
    Food environment “Food environments are the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural contexts in which people engage with the food system to make their decisions about acquiring, preparing and consuming food”,
    European Public Health Alliance: https://epha.org/what-are-food-environments/
    and “The food environment is the interface that mediates people’s food acquisition and consumption within the wider food system. It encompasses external dimensions such as the availability, prices, vendor and product properties, and promotional information; and personal dimensions such as the accessibility, affordability, convenience and desirability of food sources and products”.
    European Commission (2020) Towards a sustainable food system. Moving from food as a commodity to food as more of a common good:
    Nordic Nutrition Recommendation 2023 (NNR2023) dietary advice: “Overall, we recommend a predominantly plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, berries, pulses, potatoes and whole grains, ample amounts of fish and nuts, moderate intake of low-fat dairy products, limited intake of red meat, white meat, processed meat, alcohol, and processed foods containing amounts of added fats, salt and sugar” (Blomhoff et al 2023).
    Policy instrument: A policy instrument is a measure or a tool used by governments or public authorities at different levels to achieve certain policy objectives  (Banerjee et al. 2021). Public policy instruments can take various forms including regulatory (laws, regulations), economic (taxes, subsidies, charges), information campaigns and direct government intervention (public provision of services). The choice of instruments depends on the policy objective (Macura et al. 2022).