This study is in keeping with a range of others that consider the effects, to health and GHG emissions of reducing consumption of red and processed meats.
The key points from the study are as follows:
- Consumption of RPM is a leading contributor to GHG emissions.
- High intakes of RPMs increase the risks of several leading chronic diseases.
- This research identifies a low RPM dietary pattern that is already followed by a substantial fraction of the UK population and estimates health and environmental benefits that would result from its general adoption.
- Habitual RPM intakes are 2.5 times higher in the top compared with the bottom fifth of the UK consumers.
- Sustained dietary intakes at a counterfactual reduced level in the UK population would materially reduce incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus and colorectal cancer, by 3%–12%.
- The predicted reduction in UK food- and drink-associated GHG emissions would equate to almost 28 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent/year across the population.
Strengths and limitations of this study
- This research uses a food-based approach, taking intake-risk associations from meta-analyses rather than assuming the mechanisms by which the foods influence disease risk.
- The dietary data were collected a decade ago; however, the headline results from a more recent national dietary survey reveal that intakes of all meat categories were broadly similar, although slightly higher in 2008/2009 than in 2000/2001.
L. M. Aston, J. N. Smith, J. W. Powles. Impact of a reduced red and processed meat dietary pattern on disease risks and greenhouse gas emissions in the UK: a modelling study. BMJ Open, 2012; 2 (5): e001072 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001072
You can find the paper here.
For other studies that adopt a similar approach see:
- Friel S, Dangour AD, Garnett T, et al. Public health benefits ofstrategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture. Lancet 2009;374:2016e25
- Scarborough P, Allender S, Clarke D, et al. Modelling the healthimpact of environmentally sustainable dietary scenarios in the UK. Eur J Clin Nutr 2012;66:710e15.
These studies, although they do not specifically model health outcomes (they model various reductions in meat and dairy consumption that are broadly in line with ‘healthy diets’) are fascinating:
- Stehfest E, Bouwman L, van Vuuren D P, den Elzen MGJ, Eickhout B, Kabat P. (2009). "Climate benefits of changing diet", Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 / July
- Audsley, E., Chatterton, J., Graves, A., Morris, J., Murphy-Bokern, D., Pearn, K., Sandars, D. and Williams, A. (2009). Food, land and greenhouse gases. The effect of changes in UK food consumption on land requirements and greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee on Climate Change.
These ones don’t really look at health but rather consider dietary shifts from a purely environmental angle (and both raise potentially serious nutritional questions):
- Popp A, Lotze-Campen H and Bodirsky B (2010). Food consumption, diet shifts and associated non-CO2 greenhouse gases from agricultural production, Global Environmental Change 20, 451–462
- Pelletier N and Tyedmers P (2010). Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050, PNAS published ahead of print
Note that there do not appear to be any studies that examine the health and environmental impacts of dietary shifts in non developed-country contexts – ie. in rapidly industrialising and urbanising economies such as China, India and Brazil. If anyone knows of any work in this area please do send it through to me – I’d be keen to circulate it in a future mailing.