Integrating nutrition with ecology: balancing the health of humans and biosphere

Public Health Nutr. 2005 Sep;8(6A):706-15. doi: 10.1079/phn2005769.


Objective: To show that current rates of global population growth, production and consumption of food, and use of living and physical resources, are evidently not sustainable. To consider ways in which nutrition and allied sciences can respond to this great challenge of the twenty-first century.

Method: Past, current and future projected trends in production and consumption patterns are examined. These show that overall present and projected patterns cannot be sustained; and also show increasing unacceptable inequity between and within rich and poor regions and countries.

Discussion: Nutrition science classically focuses on nutrients in relation to human physiology, metabolism, growth, health and disease. The social and environmental conditions of the modern, interconnected, market-oriented world, and the consequences for food production and consumption, are extending the research and policy agenda with which nutrition science must now urgently engage. Historically, much attention has been paid to eliminating nutritional deficiency states, and this remains an important task. In modern urban populations 'malnutrition' encompasses new forms of dietary imbalance, especially excesses of certain nutrients. These contribute to various non-communicable diseases and, particularly, to overweight/obesity and its attendant metabolic derangements and disease risks. As a mass phenomenon the current surge in obesity has no historical precedent. The escalating impact of humankind on the natural environment, with its ramifications for present and future food production, is also unprecedented.

Conclusion: The essential challenge for nutrition science is to develop new understanding and strategies to enable a balance between promoting, equitably, the health of humans while sustaining the long-term health of the biosphere. Extension of nutrition science and food policy to meet those goals will be aided by understanding better how dietary conditions shaped the biological evolution of humankind. The fundamental long-term task is to integrate human health with the health of the biosphere.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / trends*
  • Ecology
  • Food Supply*
  • Global Health*
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Population Density*