Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Diet Quality in a Cross-Sectional Study of Swedish Adolescents

Elsevier, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 118, November 2023
Lindroos A.K., Hallstrom E., Moraeus L., Strid A., Winkvist A.

Background: Interventions to improve dietary intake and reduce dietary greenhouse gas emissions (dGHGE) are urgently needed. Adolescence presents a unique time in life to promote sustainable diets. Detailed dietary data are needed to inform public health strategies aiming at improving adolescents’ diet quality and reducing dGHGE. Objective: This study aimed to describe dGHGE in Swedish adolescents’ diets by socio-demographic characteristics, evaluate how food groups contribute to dGHGE, and examine dGHGE in relation to diet quality. Methods: Data come from the national, school-based, cross-sectional dietary survey Riksmaten Adolescents 2016-17 of 3099 females and males attending school grades 5 (11–12 y old), 8 (14–15 y old) and 11 (17–18 y old). Participants completed 2 web-based 24-h recalls and questionnaires on lifestyle factors. dGHGE was estimated based on life cycle assessment data. Diet quality was estimated using NRF11.3 (Nutrient Rich Food Index) and SHEIA15 (Swedish Healthy Eating Index for Adolescents 2015). Results: dGHGE were higher in males than females (medians 4.2 versus 3.8 kg CO2e/10 MJ, P < 0.001). In females, dGHGE were highest in grade 5 (4.0 kg CO2e/10MJ), whereas in males, emissions were highest in grade 11 (4.4 kg CO2e/10MJ), P < 0.001 for the sex/grade interaction. Overweight/obesity was positively associated with CO2e/10MJ, but parental education, birthplace, and degree of urbanization were not. In females, the proportion of dGHGE from animal-based foods was lowest in grade 11, whereas the proportions from plant-based foods and sweet foods/beverages were highest. In males, these proportions were similar across grades. NRF11.3 was not associated with CO2e/10MJ, whereas healthier eating, according to SHEIA15, was inversely associated with CO2e/10MJ. Conclusions: Food choices and dGHGE per calorie differ by sex in adolescents. Thus, intervention strategies to improve dietary sustainability need to be tailored differently to females and males. Diet quality should also be considered when promoting reduced GHGE diets.