Vegetarians have been saying it for years and now it's official: adopting a vegetarian diet could save millions of lives worldwide and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.
Conducted by Oxford University’s Future of Food programme, the study is thought to be the first to give precise figures on how vegetarian and vegan diets would affect global health and climate change.
The research published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal, reveals that adopting plant-based diets could save millions of lives annually by 2050 and cut emissions by two thirds.
Going veggie, say researchers, would also help avoid over £700 billion in costs linked to climate change and healthcare.
The study involved examining the environmental and health impacts of four different diets, each with varying meat, vegetable and sugar intakes, in order to ascertain the links between diet, health and the environment.
As it stands, animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gasses – more than combined exhaust from all modes of transport- due to a series of elements. Researchers found that food-related emissions would be cut by 70% if people went vegan, and 63% of people went veggie. If everyone followed global dietary guidelines, these emissions would only be cut by 29%.
The study also revealed how different regions could be affected by different diets. In higher-income countries such as the West, East Asia and Latin America, reduced red meat consumption would be most beneficial, but in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, increased fruit and veg intake would be most beneficial.
The results revealed that going vegan would save 8.1 million lives by 2050, and going veggie would save 7.3 million.
Meanwhile, if everyone were to follow the minimum global dietary guidelines, 5.1 million deaths could be prevented.
Simply by cutting down on red meat consumption, the number of predicted deaths could be sliced in half.
Lead author of the study, Dr Marco Springmann, concludes that, not only do our diets greatly affect our health:
“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions,”
But they also hugely impact the environment: “The food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”
He was also keen to state the economic benefits of adapting our diets, which could save up to £1000 billion each year in healthcare (reduction of obesity) and lost working days, worldwide, saying that:
“Our results indicate that dietary changes could have large benefits to society, and the value of those benefits makes a strong case for increased public and private spending on programmes aimed to achieve healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.”
Looks like it's time to reconsider that fillet steak...