Diet and food in relation to health and health policy

Why this report?

For centuries, knowledge of what is good and safe to eat, and how it should be prepared, has been passed down from mother to daughter. In the early twentieth century, this empirical knowledge could be given a more scientific basis, partly due to advances in science and in epidemiology. Since then, our scientific knowledge concerning the relationship between nutrition, diet and health has greatly increased, and continues to develop today.

That knowledge is mainly concerned with the biological effects of the individual constituents of food, such as nutrients, additives, microorganisms and chemical contaminants. Preventive measures intended to promote healthy eating patterns and greater food safety are largely based on this type of knowledge.

However, a more complete understanding of all potential health effects, both positive and negative, is required in order to weigh measures one against the other in terms of the likely health gains and the efforts to be made by policy makers.

Government policy and supervision must increasingly take into account issues which demand an ‘integrated’ product assessment, i.e. one which looks at both the positive and negative aspects of a certain food. Familiar examples include dioxins in human milk, PCBs in oily fish, and fungal toxins on cereals.

nutrients and other food constituents

While arriving at a scientific assessment of the positive and negative health effects is difficult in itself, it is also necessary to provide clear, unambiguous information to the public. To date, sources which present coherent knowledge concerning the relationship between the many types of nutrients and other food constituents are scarce.


Accordingly, there is an urgent need for integrated information about healthy diet and safe food to assist in formulating priorities for policy, both in the area of health protection and health promotion. This report attempts to fill the current void, at least in part, and also presents some of the likely developments in the field.

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