Combining carrots and sticks: How to nudge the Nordics towards sustainable and healthy eating habits

When it comes to getting us to eat in a way that’s healthier and more climate-friendly, we need both the crack of the whip in the form of taxes, and the dangle of a carrot in the form of subsidies. But information campaigns and other measures are also required if we’re to succeed. That’s what Leneisja Jungsberg, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio, says.

Leneisja Jungsberg is a co-author of the report Policy tools for sustainable and healthy eating. The report assists with the follow-up to and implementation of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR2023), which were published last year and attracted a lot of attention, largely because of the links drawn between our food and the climate for the first time.

This follow-up report goes one step further and looks at what policy can do specifically to steer our eating habits towards being more climate-smart. The report mentions, among other things, a sugar tax, a meat tax, and subsidies for fruit and veg.

“If you want to get people in the Nordics to change their eating habits, it’s important to consider a combination of policy instruments and incentives. Although taxes and subsidies play a significant role, they must be supplemented by measures such as information campaigns and things to nudge them in the right direction,” says Leneisja Jungsberg.

According to Jungsberg, politicians have a responsibility to put the necessary guidelines in place and to promote cooperation between the public and private sectors. Politicians must also create a stable foundation through legal and administrative frameworks.

Jungsberg says that the most important message from the report is that we have to understand how various food-related, personal, and socio-environmental factors affect the way in which we react to different control instruments.

“In assessing policy instruments from a behavioural change perspective, it becomes clear how important our family background, cultural norms, and social interactions are when it comes to shaping our food choices and consequently also the potential impact of different policy instruments. This is a rather surprising discovery.”

Leneisja cites Denmark as a positive example of steering people’s eating habits and the availability of healthier and more sustainable products.

“Denmark has set aside a historically high sum of DKK 675 million up to 2030 solely for plant-based foods. This venture aims to safeguard investments in plant-based foods, which are substantially less harmful to the environment.”

Jungsberg believes that this focus on food that is more climate-friendly is significant even beyond the Nordic Region.

“Countries around the world pay attention and are inspired by the Nordics as they take the lead and demonstrate how best to promote a green transition. The report demonstrates how the Nordic countries can bolster their food consumption strategies and create an environment that makes it possible for citizens to eat sustainably and healthily.”

The report Policy tools for sustainable and healthy eating has been produced by Nordregio on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The report is launched on 14 March.