The environmental and health impacts of different diets

A recent paper by researchers at the British Heart Foundation Health
Promotion Research Group, Oxford University, examines the health impact of
three ‘environmentally sustainable’ dietary scenarios in the UK.

Scenario 1, involving a 50% reduction in meat and dairy products and their
replacement with fruit, vegetables and cereal products, would result in
around 37,000 deaths being delayed or averted each year, as well as a 19%
reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In contrast, scenario 2, which
merely swaps pig and poultry meat for cow and sheep meat, would have a
modest impact on public health (less than 2000 deaths delayed or averted
each year) and only a 9% reduction in GHG emissions. Scenario 3, in which
50% of pig and poultry meat is replaced with fruit, vegetables and cereals,
would delay or avert around 9,000 deaths each year, but would have a
negligible impact on GHG emissions.

Will the UK Government take any notice of the study? Probably not. As the
authors point out, their “advice on a achieving a healthy and sustainable
diet entirely consists of directing consumers to seasonally produced fruit
and vegetables”. However, there is nothing to stop veg*n organisations and
individuals publicising the results of the study.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr 11. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.34. [Epub ahead of

Modelling the health impact of environmentally sustainable dietary
scenarios in the UK.

Scarborough P, Allender S, Clarke D, Wickramasinghe K, Rayner M.
British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, Department of
Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Food is responsible for around one-fifth of all greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions from products consumed in the UK, the largest contributor of
which is meat and dairy. The Committee on Climate Change have modelled
the impact on GHG emissions of three dietary scenarios for food
consumption in the UK. This paper models the impact of the three
scenarios on mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

A previously published model (DIETRON) was used. The three scenarios
were parameterised by fruit and vegetables, fibre, total fat, saturated
fat, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids,
cholesterol and salt using the 2008 Family Food Survey. A Monte Carlo
simulation generated 95% credible intervals.

Scenario 1 (50% reduction in meat and dairy replaced by fruit,
vegetables and cereals: 19% reduction in GHG emissions) resulted in 36910
(30,192 to 43,592) deaths delayed or averted per year. Scenario 2
(75% reduction in cow and sheep meat replaced by pigs and poultry: 9%
reduction in GHG emissions) resulted in 1999 (1739 to 2389) deaths
delayed or averted. Scenario 3 (50% reduction in pigs and poultry
replaced with fruit, vegetables and cereals: 3% reduction in GHG
emissions) resulted in 9297 (7288 to 11,301) deaths delayed or averted.

Modelled results suggest that public health and climate change dietary
goals are in broad alignment with the largest results in both domains
occurring when consumption of all meat and dairy products are reduced.
Further work in real-life settings is needed to confirm these results.


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