Global Diets Link Environmental Sustainability and Human Health

by Allison Hu

Due to rising incomes and urbanization, traditional diets are being replaced by diets that are higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils, and meats. By 2050, if these dietary trends are unchecked, they can become a major contributor to an estimated 80% increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and global land clearing, which can result in species extinction (Tilman et al. 2014). Additionally, these dietary shifts are greatly increasing the incidence of type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other chronic non-communicable diseases that lower global life expectancies. Because the global dietary transition directly links and negatively affects human and environmental health, it is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. If alternative diets that offer substantial health benefits are widely adopted, there is potential to reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions, and even help prevent such diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases. Therefore, the implementation of dietary solutions to the tightly linked diet-environment-health trilemma, although a global challenge, is an important and valuable opportunity to improve the environment and human health. Impactful solutions will not be easily achieved and will require analyses of the quantitative linkages between diets, the environment, and human health. Tilman et al. focus their study on these solutions, along with the efforts of nutritionists, agriculturists, public health professionals, educators, policy makers, and food industries. Continue reading