Knowledge for better food systems

Study: health and GHG implications of reduced red and processed meat consumption in the UK

This study is in keeping with a range of others that consider the effects, to health and GHG emissions of reducing consumption of red and processed meats. 

The key points from the study are as follows:

Article focus

  • Consumption of RPM is a leading contributor to GHG emissions.
  • High intakes of RPMs increase the risks of several leading chronic diseases.
  • This research identifies a low RPM dietary pattern that is already followed by a substantial fraction of the UK population and estimates health and environmental benefits that would result from its general adoption.

Key messages

  • Habitual RPM intakes are 2.5 times higher in the top compared with the bottom fifth of the UK consumers.
  • Sustained dietary intakes at a counterfactual reduced level in the UK population would materially reduce incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus and colorectal cancer, by 3%–12%.
  • The predicted reduction in UK food- and drink-associated GHG emissions would equate to almost 28 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent/year across the population.

Strengths and limitations of this study

  • This research uses a food-based approach, taking intake-risk associations from meta-analyses rather than assuming the mechanisms by which the foods influence disease risk.
  • The dietary data were collected a decade ago; however, the headline results from a more recent national dietary survey reveal that intakes of all meat categories were broadly similar, although slightly higher in 2008/2009 than in 2000/2001.
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Reference

L. M. Aston, J. N. Smith, J. W. Powles. Impact of a reduced red and processed meat dietary pattern on disease risks and greenhouse gas emissions in the UK: a modelling study. BMJ Open, 2012; 2 (5): e001072 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001072

You can find the paper here

 

Related work

For other studies that adopt a similar approach see:

 

These studies, although they do not specifically model health outcomes (they model various reductions in meat and dairy consumption that are broadly in line with ‘healthy diets’) are fascinating:

These ones don’t really look at health but rather consider dietary shifts from a purely environmental angle (and both raise potentially serious nutritional questions):

Note that there do not appear to be any studies that examine the health and environmental impacts of dietary shifts in non developed-country contexts – ie. in rapidly industrialising and urbanising economies such as China, India and Brazil.  If anyone knows of any work in this area please do send it through to me – I’d be keen to circulate it in a future mailing.

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:
And through the keyword categories:
 

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