Survey of greenhouse gas data reveals that emissions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries have nearly doubled in the last 50 years and could keep increasing at an alarming rate if we do not make a conscious effort to reduce them. Reducing this enormous risk of greenhouse gas emissions by changing food consumption patterns have been debated for many years now.
The United Kingdom is working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the fiscal year 2050 as compared to the levels in the year 1990. They estimate that this would include a 70% reduction in emissions from the food industry.
AdvertisementNew research carried out by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine shows that even making small changes to the diets would have a major effect on health and environment. The results of the study have been published in two journals. The first paper published in Climatic Change studied the effect of current diet as well as diet modified to meet World Health Organization (WHO) dietary recommendations on greenhouse gas emissions. The second paper, which was published in BMJ Open reveals the effect of dietary modifications on the health of the UK population.
Researchers collected data from food diaries of 1,571 people in the UK. They also analyzed data on consumer behavior, which was used to define dietary changes, which would most likely be acceptable to the people. The modified diet (as per the WHO dietary recommendations) would actually mean consumption of fewer animal products particularly red meat, reduce consumption of sweets, savory snacks, dairy products, eggs and increase the intake of fruits, vegetables and cereals.
The study revealed that by conforming to the diet recommended by WHO, there is a possibility of reducing greenhouse gas emission by a ballpark figure of 17%. They also suggested that they could achieve further reductions of around 40% by making realistic modifications to diet which would mean increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and cereals while cutting down on red meat and processed snacks. However, to reduce emissions by greater than 40% would call for a shift to an entirely vegan diet, which would most likely be unacceptable to vast majority of UK individuals.
The second research paper published in BMJ Open highlights the fact that following the WHO recommended diet would actually increase the average life expectancy of UK individuals i.e., by 12 months in men and by 4 months in women. The authors speculate that such health benefits would come primarily from reductions in coronary heart disease and stroke.
One of the lead study authors and a reader in food and nutrition for global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Alan Dangour, commented, "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."
The study limitations are linked to the available data on food consumption and greenhouse gas emissions related to diet. The study authors caution that the mortality estimates should be treated as indicative of broader patterns rather than precise estimates.