A new report commissioned by the Lancet recommends a major shift away from current dietary patterns as well as changes in the way food is produced. The report was co-authored by Jess Fanzo, who leads the Alliance’s Food & Nutrition Security theme.
Fanzo is also featured in a Lancet podcast with Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London.
In addition to her role at the Alliance, Fanzo is a Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), the Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the Department of International Health of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.
From the Lancet:
The food we eat, the ways we produce it, and the amounts wasted or lost have major impacts on human health and environmental sustainability. Getting it right with food will be an important way for countries to achieve the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
A diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet. It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact.
Today, agriculture occupies nearly 40% of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. Land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.
Foods sourced from animals, especially red meat, have relatively high environmental footprints per serving compared to other food groups. This has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and biodiversity loss. This is particularly the case for animal source foods from grain fed livestock.
What is or is not consumed are both major drivers of malnutrition in various forms. Globally, over 820 million people continue to go hungry every day, 150 million children suffer from long-term hunger that impairs their growth and development, and 50 million children are acutely hungry due to insufficient access to food.
In parallel, the world is also experiencing a rise in overweight and obesity. Today, over 2 billion adults are overweight and obese, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart diseases are among the leading causes of global deaths.
Good food can be a powerful driver of change: The EAT-Lancet Commission outlines a planetary health diet, which is flexible and recommends intake levels of various food groups that we can adapt to our local geography, culinary traditions and personal preferences. By choosing this diet, we can drive demand for the right foods and send clear market signals all the way through the food value chain back to the farmers.
Globally, the planetary health diet favors increasing the consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes alongside small portions of meat and dairy. In parts of the world, this diet involves increasing the access to certain food groups while in other areas, the diet requires a significant reduction in the overconsumption of unhealthier foods.
Shifting from unhealthy diets to the planetary health diet can prevent 11 million premature adult deaths per year and drive the transition toward a sustainable global food system by 2050 that ensures healthy food for all within planetary boundaries.