Making a series of relatively minor and realistic changes to UK diets would not only reduce UK diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a fifth, but could also extend average life expectancy by eight months, according to new research.
Researchers used high quality data from food diaries for 1,571 adults in the UK to estimate the effect on diet-related greenhouse gas emissions and on population health of modifying current diets to meet WHO dietary recommendations. Data on consumer behaviour was used to define dietary changes likely to be acceptable to the public. The researchers modelled the changes in health outcomes such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and a number of diet-related cancers, and in life expectancy resulting from the revised diet.
They found that bringing UK diets into line with WHO dietary recommendations, while maintaining a dietary pattern familiar to UK adults, would reduce UK diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.
Their analysis also showed that if adopted, these dietary changes would have important benefits for the health of the UK population, saving almost seven million years of life lost prematurely in the UK over the next 30 years, and extending average life expectancy by approximately eight months (12 months for men and four months for women). These health gains would come mainly from reductions in coronary heart disease and stroke.
The modified diet that could achieve these environmental and health benefits would contain fewer animal products, especially red meat, fewer savoury snacks and more fruit, vegetables and cereals. While the modified diet would require many minor adjustments, overall it would not be substantially different to the current average UK dietary pattern.