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Scientists Create 'Planetary Health Diet' to Tackle Climate Change

A group of international scientists have devised a global diet designed to limit climate change while promoting human health. It looks quite similar to the Mediterranean diet.

Jan. 24, 2019
By Isabel Putinja

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A group of inter­na­tional sci­en­tists has issued guide­lines for a diet designed to be envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able while pro­mot­ing good health.

A rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks fail­ing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.- Dr Johan Rockström, direc­tor of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Made up of 37 sci­en­tists from 16 coun­tries, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health was cre­ated to reach a sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on a diet ben­e­fi­cial to human health, while aiming to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and fall in line with the Paris Agreement on cli­mate change.

See more: Climate Change

The com­mis­sion’s report, “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT – Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sus­tain­able food sys­tems,” was pub­lished in the British med­ical jour­nal, The Lancet, on January 16. This was fol­lowed by its offi­cial launch the next day in Oslo, Norway, which will be fol­lowed by a series of other events in cities across the globe.

The inter­na­tional com­mis­sion exam­ined the role of diet and food sys­tems on cli­mate change and how a grow­ing global pop­u­la­tion could be fed while mit­i­gat­ing damage to the planet. Taking into account that there was no global con­sen­sus on what a healthy and envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able diet could look like, this is the first sci­ence-based diet that attempts to rec­om­mend one that can be applied glob­ally.

Divided into five work­ing groups, the mem­bers of the com­mis­sion exam­ined five major themes in draw­ing up the report. These thor­oughly exam­ined what con­sti­tutes a healthy diet, the para­me­ters of a sus­tain­able food system, the trends shap­ing diets across the globe, the poten­tial impacts of an envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able diet on health, and the out­lin­ing of poli­cies and actions designed to meet tar­gets for health and sus­tain­abil­ity.

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Based on an exam­i­na­tion of exist­ing sci­en­tific evi­dence on how eating habits affect the envi­ron­ment and the impact of live­stock farm­ing on cli­mate change, the report sup­ports a shift to a largely plant-based diet. It also rec­om­mends at least a 50-per­cent decline in food waste and improve­ments in the meth­ods of food pro­duc­tion.

The pro­posed dietary guide­lines rec­om­mend a diet largely made up of plant foods with only small amounts of meat and dairy, sim­i­lar to the Mediterranean diet. Specifically, the report rec­om­mends more than dou­bling the con­sump­tion of fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, whole grains and nuts, and reduc­ing the con­sump­tion of red meat, refined grains and sugary foods by more than 50 per­cent.

The com­mis­sion has also come up with spe­cific sci­en­tific tar­gets that out­line the quan­tity of spe­cific foods to be con­sumed on a daily basis for opti­mal health. As for food pro­duc­tion, the rec­om­mended tar­gets point to fac­tors such as the amount of land and water used, and limits to green­house gas emis­sions and phos­pho­rous pol­lu­tion.

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The researchers con­clude that the uni­ver­sal adop­tion of this plan­e­tary health diet would limit the fur­ther degra­da­tion of the envi­ron­ment and save 11 mil­lion people annu­ally from deaths due to unhealthy eating habits.

“Global food pro­duc­tion threat­ens cli­mate sta­bil­ity and ecosys­tem resilience,” Dr Johan Rockström, the direc­tor of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the authors of the report, said.

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“It con­sti­tutes the single largest driver of envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and trans­gres­sion of plan­e­tary bound­aries,” he added. “Taken together the out­come is dire. A rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks fail­ing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”