Health and cultural factors instead of altruistic messaging have greater impact on promoting sustainable dietary habits in Asia

By Audrey Yow

- Last updated on GMT

Health and cultural factors instead of altruistic messaging have greater impact on promoting sustainable dietary habits in Asia © Getty Images
Health and cultural factors instead of altruistic messaging have greater impact on promoting sustainable dietary habits in Asia © Getty Images

Related tags Sustainable diets healthy diet Futureproofing the food system Sustainability

New evidence suggests that brands and government need to scrap altruistic messaging about climate change and focus on health and culture to promote sustainable eating in Asia.

Through surveys and choice experiments in Asia, researchers investigated the potential for dietary shifts to address the impacts of climate change.

Their findings revealed that Asian consumers are largely unwilling to deviate from current dietary habits despite their preference for sustainably produced foods.

“Information experiments demonstrate that altruistic messaging fails to induce change, and positive information about climate impacts weakens the influence of certification,”​ wrote the researchers in Cell Reports Sustainability​.

“However, self-enhancement framing, particularly effective with individuals aged 60 years and above, shows promise.”

Despite their growing populations, rapidly expanding economies, and growing appetite for dietary protein, Asian countries have been underrepresented in the study of strategies to mitigate climate change.

Current trends show a rapid growth in demand for animal proteins in Asia, which is aggravating scarce land and water resources in the region while also contributing to nutritional diseases.

As promoting sustainable diets is vital in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change, researchers conducted this study to highlight challenges, identify effective strategies, and offer guidance for policymakers to promote sustainable diets in Asia.

Therefore, to investigate the willingness of Asian consumers to undergo dietary transitions for the purpose of mitigating negative environmental impacts, researchers conducted large-scale field surveys and embedded discrete choice experiments (DCEs) in China, Japan, and Vietnam. These countries were chosen to encompass a wide range of economic, dietary, and cultural contexts found across Asia.

To assess the factors influencing consumer willingness to adopt dietary changes for both environmental and health-related reasons, a food-basket choice experiment was embedded in the survey.

Researchers used three information nudges to evaluate the factors that may influence individuals into adopting a shift towards a sustainable diet: (1) climate change, (2) the pressures of intensive agricultural production practices on natural resources, and (3) direct health effects of consuming foods from intensive agricultural practices.

The researchers discovered that most consumers were hesitant to deviate from their current dietary habits despite showing a preference for sustainably produced foods.

“This study provides evidence of the strong influence of food culture and dietary habits in shaping food basket choices among Asian consumers,”​ said the researchers.

“Interestingly, we found that information nudges focused solely on sustainability did not yield significant effects.”

Researchers also found that greater motivation for diet transition can be achieved by highlighting the negative personal health consequences of current consumption habits, particularly among older consumers aged 60 and above.

“Therefore, when implementing information and education policies as suggested by the EAT-Lancet Commission, it is crucial to emphasise individual health benefits and household well-being, particularly among older consumers, rather than focusing solely on the more abstract climate and environmental benefits of sustainable diets in an Asian context,”​ the researchers concluded.

Source: Cell Reports Sustainability


“Cultural and generational factors shape Asians’ sustainable food choices: Insights from choice experiments and information nudges”

Authors: Chongyan Sun, Carolina A. Contador et al​.

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