12 January - 20 June 2016

The effect of vegetarian diets on greenhouse gas emissions and mortality

02 July 14

It is well documented that climate change is a major environmental and public health issue. Now, however, it is also emerging as a threat to food security.

Globally, the food system itself is a contributor to global warming, and a recent article and paper have called for changes in consumer behaviour to help mitigate this, proposing the adoption of lower carbon footprint diets as a tool for both public health improvements and climate change mitigation.

The study in question, conducted by scientists at Loma Linda University Health and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, assessed the potential for climate change mitigation and beneficial health effects from changes in dietary patterns. They aimed firstly to quantify and compare greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) associated with various vegetarian and non-vegetarian dietary patterns across a large North American population (including over 73,000 participants from the Adventist Health Study 2, AHS-2), and secondly to assess total mortality associated with these dietary patterns in the same population.

A life-cycle assessment methodology (LCA) was used to calculate the GHGE intensities of the foods consumed under the different diets, and confirmed that plant-based diets led to fewer GHGEs by almost a third compared to non-vegetarian diets. The mortality analyses showed that there was also a health benefit from reducing meat consumption: mortality rates were 6.66 and 5.56 per 1000 person-years for nonvegetarians and vegetarians respectively. [ScienceDaily]

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