Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods

Michael A. Clark, Marco Springmann, Jason Hill, David Tilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations

Abstract

Food choices are shifting globally in ways that are negatively affecting both human health and the environment. Here we consider how consuming an additional serving per day of each of 15 foods is associated with 5 health outcomes in adults and 5 aspects of agriculturally driven environmental degradation. We find that while there is substantial variation in the health outcomes of different foods, foods associated with a larger reduction in disease risk for one health outcome are often associated with larger reductions in disease risk for other health outcomes. Likewise, foods with lower impacts on one metric of environmental harm tend to have lower impacts on others. Additionally, of the foods associated with improved health (whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish), all except fish have among the lowest environmental impacts, and fish has markedly lower impacts than red meats and processed meats. Foods associated with the largest negative environmental impacts-unprocessed and processed red meat-are consistently associated with the largest increases in disease risk. Thus, dietary transitions toward greater consumption of healthier foods would generally improve environmental sustainability, although processed foods high in sugars harm health but can have relatively low environmental impacts. These findings could help consumers, policy makers, and food companies to better understand the multiple health and environmental implications of food choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23357-23362
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume116
Issue number46
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 12 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank David Williams, Kaitlin Kimmel, George Furey, Delphine Renard, and Peter Scarborough for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was made possible through support from the Balzan Award Prize to D.T.; the Grand Challenges Research Initiative at the University of Minnesota; the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet Our Health (Livestock, Environment and People), award number 205212/Z/16/Z; and the US Department of Agriculture (MN-12-083). This publication was also developed as part of the Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions, which was supported under Assistance Agreement No. R835873 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the EPA. The EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank David Williams, Kaitlin Kimmel, George Furey, Delphine Renard, and Peter Scarborough for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was made possible through support from the Balzan Award Prize to D.T.; the Grand Challenges Research Initiative at the University of Minnesota; the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet Our Health (Livestock, Environment and People), award number 205212/Z/ 16/Z; and the US Department of Agriculture (MN-12-083). This publication was also developed as part of the Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions, which was supported under Assistance Agreement No. R835873 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the EPA. The EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Diet
  • Environment
  • Food
  • Health

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