Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change

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Media Type: Article - Recent

Date of Publication: April 12, 2016

Year of Publication: 2016

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Author(s): Marco Springmann, H. Charles J. Godfray, Mike Rayner, Peter Scarborough

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of Amerca

Volume: 113 (15)

Pages: 4146-4151

Categories: ,

What would be the health and environmental effects of adopting a more plant-based diet? Do those effects differ by region? Authors Marco Springmann, H. Charles J. Godfrey, Mike Rayner, and Peter Scarborough present their findings from coupling a region-specific global health model with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules. Central to their findings, a need for significant changes in the global food system to even consider achieving the dietary patterns studied.

ABSTRACT: What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the environment we all share. Recent analyses have highlighted the likely dual health and environmental benefits of reducing the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Here, we couple for the first time, to our knowledge, a region-specific global health model based on dietary and weight-related risk factors with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules to quantify the linked health and environmental consequences of dietary changes. We find that the impacts of dietary changes toward less meat and more plant-based diets vary greatly among regions. The largest absolute environmental and health benefits result from diet shifts in developing countries whereas Western high-income and middle-income countries gain most in per capita terms. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6–10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29–70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts. Overall, we estimate the economic benefits of improving diets to be 1–31 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to 0.4–13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. However, significant changes in the global food system would be necessary for regional diets to match the dietary patterns studied here.

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