How Our Diet Habits Affect the Planet

Posted on: February 11th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

The world’s most respected and oldest medical journal, Lancet, has just published a paper pointing out that obesity, malnourishment and climate change are the biggest threats to humanity.

I’ve always been an advocate of healthy eating, exercise and respecting your body, but now the experts tell us that poor diet not only hurts your body but also the planet.

The Lancet‘s Commission on Obesity says obesity, undernutrition and climate change are the biggest threats to people, and these are the result of greed and inept governments.

The commission’s report says that people must radically change their diet to save the planet. Basically our appetite for meat, sugars and processed foods is pushing the planet to breaking point.

“Civilisation is in crisis,” the editors of The Lancet wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.

So what should we be eating to save ourselves and the planet?

People’s main source of protein should come from plants, not meat. Red meat should account for zero to no more than 14 grams a day of your diet, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The report said that roughly 35 per cent of our calories should come from whole grains, while consumption of legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruit needs to double. The researchers wrote that the diet follows the same principles of the Mediterranean and Okinawa diets.

“The world’s diet must change dramatically,” said Dr Walter Willett from Harvard University, who co-led the commission.

The report was delivered written by a collaboration of 37 experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and politics from 16 countries including Australia.

The authors said the benefits of increased food production in the past 50 years are now being undone by a world shift towards unhealthy diets that are high in sugars, processed foods and animal-based fats. 

Meat production produces greenhouse gases

The world's meat production is a major contributor to climate change. Remember grazing animals releases methane gas, which builds up in the atmosphere. Meat production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouses gases every year.

A diet high in sugar, carbs and animals fats is damaging to the environment and your weight. Almost two in three Australian adults and one in four children are overweight.

The Lancet consortium of 43 world-leading experts in agriculture, economics, human rights and other fields said the combination of obesity, undernutrition and climate change would take an enormous toll on humanity.

“What we’re doing now is unsustainable,” said William Dietz, an author of the study and public health expert at George Washington University.

“The only thing we can hope is that a sense of urgency will permeate,” he said. “We’re running out of time.”

Our diet is killing us

Every year in the world four million deaths are caused by obesity while 815 million people are undernourished.

Lancet obesity commissioner Professor Steven Allender, director of the Global Obesity Centre at Australia’s Deakin University, said undernutrition and obesity was the biggest cause of ill-health and premature death in the world.

More than a million children and seven in 10 Australian adults are overweight or obese.

“Global food systems not only drive the obesity and undernutrition pandemic but also generate more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle production accounting for more than half of these emissions,” said Prof Allender. “Meanwhile cars support sedentary lifestyles and generate between 14 and 25 per cent of emissions.”

In the developing world climate change’s extreme weather events, droughts, and shifts in agriculture will drive up rates of undernutrition by increasingly threatening food security.

Agricultural production and food transport burns fossil fuels that contribute to rising global temperatures, drought, and extreme weather

Governments have failed to act

The report said the problems are made worse by government inaction. Politicians are bullied by profit-seeking food companies and there is a lack of demand for change from the community, who don’t understand how dangerous the situation now is.

Professor Allender from Deakin University said governments must wean themselves off fossil fuel. Meanwhile beef, sheep, pig and dairy farmers should be supported and redirected to grow environmentally sustainable plant crops.

The commission said a binding international agreement, similar to the deal reached on global warming in 2015, was needed to improve food systems. Three years ago, nearly 200 nations met in Paris to agree on a pact, aspects of which are legally binding, to cut greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

The report said we must control the influence of the food industry on government policy and move towards healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems.

“The human cost of our faulty food systems is that almost one billion people are hungry, and almost two billion people are eating too much of the wrong food,” the report said.

Demand for meat keeps growing

By 2050, the world’s population will be 9.8 billion.

With China and India becoming more wealthy, there is more and more demand for animal-based foods. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years.

The Lancet commission argued that feeding the world will be impossible without fundamentally transforming our diets and improving the way people produce food and reduce waste. In a nutshell, the way we eat now is making humanity and the planet sick.

Is eating meat ethical

In Europe and North America there is growing concern about the way animals are treated. Here in Australia there has been debate about transporting sheep overseas. Defenders of animal farming argue that it is necessary to feed a growing population's demand for food. On the contrary, when we confine animals to factory farms we have to grow crops for them to eat. The animals burn up most of the food's energy to breathe and keep warm, so we end up with a very small meat fraction – usually no more than one-third and sometimes as little as one-tenth – of the crops that we have fed them. Basically it would be much more efficient food production if we cut down our meat intake and instead people ate more plants. That means foods like beans and nuts.

It is a disaster that countries such as China and India, as they become richer, are copying western methods and putting animals in huge industrial farms. If this continues, the result will be animal suffering and more environmental damage and a rise in heart disease and cancers for people.

If you can’t find the motivation to change your diet to fix your health, then do it to save the planet!


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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