Pathways to "5-a-day": modeling the health impacts and environmental footprints of meeting the target for fruit and vegetable intake in the United Kingdom

Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Aug 2;114(2):530-539. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab076.


Background: Fruit and vegetable consumption in the United Kingdom is currently well below recommended levels, with a significant associated public health burden. The United Kingdom has committed to reducing its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and this transition will require shifts towards plant-based diets.

Objective: The aim was to quantify the health effects, environmental footprints, and cost associated with 4 different pathways to meeting the United Kingdom's "5-a-day" recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption.

Methods: Dietary data based on 18,006 food diaries from 4528 individuals participating in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2012/13-2016/17) constituted the baseline diet. Linear programming was used to model the hypothetical adoption of the 5-a-day (400 g) recommendation, which was assessed according to 4 pathways differing in their prioritization of fruits versus vegetables and UK-produced versus imported varieties. Increases in fruit and vegetable consumption were substituted for consumption of sweet snacks and meat, respectively. Changes in life expectancy were assessed using the IOMLIFET life table model. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs), blue water footprint (WF), and total diet cost were quantified for each 5-a-day diet.

Results: Achieving the 5-a-day target in the United Kingdom could increase average life expectancy at birth by 7-8 mo and reduce diet-related GHGEs by 6.1 to 12.2 Mt carbon dioxide equivalents/y; blue WFs would change by -0.14 to +0.07 km3/y. Greater reductions in GHGEs were achieved by prioritizing increased vegetable consumption over fruit, whereas the greatest reduction in WF was obtained by prioritizing vegetable varieties produced in the United Kingdom. All consumption pathways increased diet cost (£0.34-£0.46/d).

Conclusions: Benefits to both population and environmental health could be expected from consumption pathways that meet the United Kingdom's 5-a-day target for fruit and vegetables. Our analysis identifies cross-sectoral trade-offs and opportunities for national policy to promote fruit and vegetable consumption in the United Kingdom.

Keywords: diet cost; dietary patterns; health impact assessment; health promotion; nutrition; planetary health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diet / standards*
  • Diet Surveys*
  • Environment*
  • Food / economics
  • Fruit*
  • Greenhouse Gases*
  • Humans
  • Longevity
  • United Kingdom
  • Vegetables*


  • Greenhouse Gases