An assessment of the water use associated with Australian diets using a planetary boundary framework

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Ridoutt, Bradley G.
Baird, Danielle
Anastasiou, Kim
Hendrie, Gilly A.
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Cambridge University Press
Objective: Agriculture accounts for around 70 % of global freshwater withdrawals. As such, the food system has been identified as a critical intervention point to address water scarcity. Various studies have identified dietary patterns that contribute less to water scarcity. However, it is unclear what level of reduction is necessary to be considered sustainable. The pursuit of unnecessarily aggressive reductions could limit dietary diversity. Our objective was to assess the sustainability of water use supporting Australian dietary habits and the adequacy of current dietary guidelines. Design: Dietary intake data were obtained from the National Nutrition and Physical Activity component of the Australian Health Survey. For each individual daily diet, the water scarcity footprint was quantified, following ISO14046:2014, as well as a diet quality score. Water scarcity footprint results were compared with the planetary boundary for freshwater use downscaled to the level of an individual diet. Setting: Australia. Participants: 9341 adults participating in the Australian Health Survey. Results: Dietary water scarcity footprints averaged 432·6 L-eq (95 % CI 432·5, 432·8), less than the 695 litres/person per d available to support the current global population of 7·8 billion, and the 603 litres/person per d available for a future population of 9 billion. Diets based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines required 521 L-eq/d, or 379 L-eq/d with lower water scarcity footprint food choices. Conclusions: Diets based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines were found to be within the freshwater planetary boundary. What is needed in Australia is greater compliance with dietary guidelines.
Australian Health Survey, Dietary guidelines, Discretionary food, Life cycle assessment, Sustainable diet, Water footprint
Ridoutt, B.G., Baird, D., Anastasiou, K., & Hendrie, G.A. (2021). An assessment of the water use associated with Australian diets using a planetary boundary framework. Public Health Nutrition, 24(6), 1570-1575.