Small Changes to Diet could bring Substantial Health & Environmental Benefits, Say Researchers

Food, DoughnutMaking even relatively small changes to current UK diets could have a substantial effect on the environment and the population’s health, two research papers have claimed (Green et al., 2015; Milner et al., 2015).

The United Kingdom has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from their 1990 levels by 2050, and some say that this should include a 70% reduction in emissions from the food industry.

Research published in the journal Climatic Change estimated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the average diet by using data on 1571 adults from the UK’s national diet and nutrition survey from 2008 to 2011. The researchers compared these with diets modified to meet World Health Organization recommendations so that they contained less red meat, dairy products, eggs, and sweet or savoury snacks but contained more cereals, fruit, and vegetables.

The study concluded that, if the average UK diet conformed to WHO recommendations, greenhouse gases would be reduced by 17%. Further reductions of around 40% could be achieved by making realistic modifications to diets so that they contained even fewer animal products and processed snacks but contained more fruit, vegetables, and cereals. However, reducing emissions by more than 40% would mean people changing to an almost entirely vegan diet and would be highly unlikely to be accepted by the UK population, the authors concluded.

A second paper, published in BMJ Open, modelled the effect that these dietary changes would have on the health of the UK population. If the average UK diet complied with WHO recommendations, the researchers found, this would increase the average life expectancy by 12 months in men and by four months in women. These health gains would come primarily from reductions in coronary heart disease and stroke, they wrote.

Alan Dangour, study author and a reader in food and nutrition for global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, “This is the most detailed analysis to date for the UK, and our findings show that even making relatively small changes to current diets would have a tremendous impact on both the environment and population health.

“It’s clear from our analysis that we do not need to make radical changes to our dietary habits to bring about substantial benefits.”

Reference (Whole Article)

Wise, J. (2015) Small Changes to Diet could bring Substantial Health and Environmental Benefits, Say Researchers. BMJ 2015;350:h2330

Reference (In Article)

Green, R., Milner, J., Dangour, A., et al. (2015) The Potential to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the UK through Healthy and Realistic Dietary Change. Climatic Change. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1329-y.

Milner, J., Green, R., Dangour, A., et al. (2015) Health Effects of Adapting Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Diets in the UK. BMJ Open 2015; doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007364.

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