The benefits of eating a more plant-based diet have long been lauded, probably starting with your mom telling you to "eat your veg" right through to your personal trainer telling you how "greens are good for you" but now a team at Oxford University has put the research in to show that not only could a move towards vegetarianism benefit personal health but also global health as well.
The study suggests that millions of people would be saved a year if they adopted a balanced vegetarian lifestyle because of the health burdens associated with red meat and other food products and a vegan diet would go even further. It was not just the direct health benefits that were taken into account but also the global climate and how farming production affects the planet. By reducing meat production, large areas given over to producing livestock could be used to create a far greater yield of plant-based produce as well as cutting down on pollution associated with the farming industry such as large amounts of methane produced by cattle and the great amount of energy put in to produce meat products.
In fact, the study estimated that around $1 trillion could be saved by 2050, in reduction to costs to healthcare and combatting climate change with two-thirds of global emissions disappearing in the process. Dr. Marco Springmann was the lead author on the study and presented his findings by saying that a person's diet "greatly influences" their environment around them and their health.
“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions. At the same time, the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”
By predicting four different scenarios in which people either carried on in the same manner as today, switched to a vegetarian diet, switched to a vegan diet, or just cut down on their meat consumption by a minimum requirement and limiting their intake of red meat, sugar and total calories, the study showed that leading a vegan lifestyle would save 8.1million lives by 2050, while vegetarianism could save 7.3million and simply following the minimum global dietary guidelines could save 5.1million deaths. Red meat alone contributed to half of all avoidable deaths predicted in the study.
In terms of climate change, it was also found that following the minimum dietary requirements could cut food-related emissions by 29% with that figure growing to a whopping 63% if a vegetarian diet was adopted and then a further climb to 70% if a vegan diet taken up. As things stand, greenhouse gas emissions linked to food make up half of the pollution that the planet can afford to maintain if global warming its to be kept below 2°C.
Nicolas Hewitt has done similar research in this field through his role as a professor at Lancaster University and voiced that this latest research confirmed his earlier findings which had similar results.
"Consumer choices around food have significant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating meat from the diet can reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by about 35 percent and changing from carbon-intensive beef and lamb to less carbon-intensive pork and chicken can reduce food-related carbon emissions by about 18 percent," he said.
"Overall, changing to a vegan diet can reduce food-related emissions by about a quarter, which in the UK represents about 40 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions every year. This is equivalent to about half of the total CO2 emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet. If society is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then we should be trying to make savings in every area of our day-to-day activities, including in our diet."
The Oxford University study also looked at the economic benefits of these possible changes that could range from saving $700 to $1,000 billion each year in healthcare, unpaid informal care and lost working days worldwide. Of these results Dr. Springman said:
"Putting a dollar value on good health and the environment is a sensitive issue. Yet, our results indicate that dietary changes could have large benefits to society, and the value of those benefits makes a strong case for increased public and private spending on programs aimed to achieve healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets."
The study, which was published in the 'Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences' journal, certainly is food for thought and could lead to a change in how governments and organizations approach food production and the health of their citizens. What is worth considering is if a dietary change could benefit you.