Food and planetary health
The research project is carried out by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and supported by Login5 Foundation
Transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. As noted by the recent Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems report (read the adapted Summary Report here), published in January 2019, more than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and disease. Additionally, food production is exceeding planetary boundaries—driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution due to over-application of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, and causing unsustainable changes in water and land use. Human diets inextricably link health and environmental sustainability, with the potential to nurture both. However, current diets are pushing the Earth beyond its limits, while causing ill health in communities around the globe. This puts both people and the planet at risk.
In their work with the Food and Planetary Health project at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the research team assesses the environmental and health impacts of different foods. For example, proteins derived from chicken, pork, or even fish can have a negative effect on the planet in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Meat from grass-eating animals like cattle entails the highest emission of greenhouse gases, but other foods, like pulses, can be produced with very low levels of these. The work conducted by the Food and Planetary Health research team is designed to address the need to feed a growing global population a healthy diet, while also defining sustainable food systems that will minimize damage to our planet.
The current study combines data from multiple large cohorts around the world, which examines the relation of major protein sources to the risk of coronary heart disease. Thus far, 17 cohorts have agreed to participate (with a total of 1.4 million participants). Using data collections going back to 1986, the research team is looking at various protein sources—specifically where red meat was replaced by other sources, such as plant-based foods—in relation to risk of coronary heart disease, the number one cause of death in almost all countries worldwide.
The intended impact of this work is to provide the best possible evidence to inform individual choices. Additionally, this work can help inform dietary guidelines in the U.S. and other countries, with the goal of promoting diets that are healthy for humans and our planet.
Project Leader: Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School
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