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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of public policy interventions for environmentally sustainable food consumption: a systematic map of available evidence

Ran, Ylva; Van Rysselberge, Pierre; Macura, Biljana; Persson, U. Martin; Abu Hatab, Assem; Jonell, Malin; Lindahl, Therese; Roos, Elin


Background The global food system is inflicting substantial environmental harm, necessitating a shift towards more environmentally sustainable food consumption practices. Policy interventions, for example, information campaigns, taxes and subsidies and changes in the choice context are essential to stimulate sustainable change, but their effectiveness in achieving environmental goals remains inadequately understood. Existing literature lacks a comprehensive synthesis of evidence on the role of public policies in promoting sustainable food consumption. Our systematic map addressed this gap by collecting and categorising research evidence on public policy interventions aimed at establishing environmentally sustainable food consumption patterns, in order to answer the primary research question: What evidence exists on the effects of public policy interventions for achieving environmentally sustainable food consumption? Methods Searches for relevant records (in English) were performed in WoS, Scopus, ASSIA, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses, EconLit, Google Scholar and in bibliographies of relevant reviews. A grey literature search was also performed on 28 specialist websites (searches were made in the original language of the webpages and publications in English, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian were eligible) and Google Scholar (search in English). Screening was performed at title/abstract and full-text levels, with machine learning-aided priority screening at title/abstract level. Eligibility criteria encompassed settings, interventions (public policies on sustainable food consumption), target groups and outcomes. No critical appraisal of study validity was conducted. Data coding covered bibliographic details, study characteristics, intervention types and outcomes. Evidence was categorised into intervention types and subcategories. Visual representation utilised bar plots, diagrams, heatmaps and an evidence atlas. This produced a comprehensive overview of effects of public policy interventions on sustainable food consumption patterns. Review findings The evidence base included 227 articles (267 interventions), with 92% of studies in high-income countries and only 4% in low-income countries. Quantitative studies dominated (83%), followed by mixed methods (16%) and qualitative studies (1%). Most interventions were information-based and 50% of reviewed studies looked at labels. Information campaigns/education interventions constituted 10% of the sample, and menu design changes and restriction/editing of choice context 8% each. Market-based interventions represented 13% of total interventions, of which two-thirds were taxes. Administrative interventions were rare (< 1%). Proxies for environmental impact (85%) were more frequent outcome measures than direct impacts (15%). Animal-source food consumption was commonly used (19%) for effects of interventions on, for example, greenhouse gas emissions. Most studies used stated preferences (61%) to evaluate interventions. Conclusions The literature assessing policies for sustainable food consumption is dominated by studies on non-intrusive policy instruments; labels, information campaigns, menu design changes and editing choice contexts. There is a strong need for research on sustainable food policies to leave the lab and enter the real world, which will require support and cooperation of public and private sector stakeholders.Impact evaluations of large-scale interventions require scaling-up of available research funding and stronger multidisciplinary research, including collaborations with industry and other societal actors. Future research in this field should also go beyond the European and North American context, to obtain evidence on how to counteract increasing environmental pressures from food consumption worldwide.


Biodiversity loss; Climate change; Environmental impacts; Greenhouse gas emissions; Policy intervention; Sustainable consumption; Sustainable diets; Sustainable food systems; Demand-side interventions

Published in

Environmental Evidence
2024, Volume: 13, number: 1, article number: 10
Publisher: BMC