A global transition to a vegetarian diet would have significant impacts in the battle against global warming and other environmental concerns, according to research conducted at Loma Linda University Health.
Food production has been identified as a major contributor to increased greenhouse gas emissions, consuming 70% of fresh water and responsible for 80% of the world’s deforestation. Improving agricultural technology and reducing food waste have been put forward as potential solutions to these environmental concerns. But, Joan Sabaté, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, found that changes in food choices and diet patterns would have a far greater positive effect on environmental sustainability.
“Vegetarian Diets: Planetary Health and Its Alignment with Human Health” is a meta-analysis of 49 published research studies that focused on the impact that vegetarian and vegan diets have on greenhouse gas emissions and water and land use. When the data from the 49 studies was combined, Sabaté found that shifting from current dietary norms to ovolactovegetarian and vegan diets would reduce greenhouse gas levels an average of 35%, reduce land usage for food production by an average of 42% and agricultural water usage by an average of 28%.
“Many other studies have clearly demonstrated the health advantages of vegetarian and vegan diets,” Sabaté says. “This analysis confirms that switching to these types of diets are also significantly eco-friendly as well.”
Sabaté directs the environmental nutrition research program at Loma Linda University School of Public Health. This program explores the interrelationships between the environmental and health impacts of food choices, and ultimately seeks to improve the sustainability, health and equity of food systems.
One early sign that people are increasing in their commitment to make dietary changes due to concerns about climate took place in earlier this year. By choosing to serve all vegan meals to hundreds of celebrities and guests, two major entertainment industry award shows — the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards — increased public awareness and conversation about the link between sustainable agriculture and climate change.
While Sabaté says the field of sustainable diet and environmental impacts is still in its infancy, a number of research studies show a clear connection between diet and climate factors.
But, additional research is needed into how changes in agricultural approaches impact the environment in low- and middle-income countries.
“In societies where daily meat consumption is the social norm, drastically reducing meat consumption is a major challenge,” Sabaté says. “In low- and middle-income countries, eliminating meat could adversely affect those populations’ already marginal nutritional status.