A recent study found that government dietary guidelines fail to provide practical advice on healthy, sustainable diets. Lead study author Dr. Marco Springmann said that the results were both “revealing and shocking.”
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) published the new study. It is the most comprehensive analysis of dietary guidelines ever and investigated the national recommendations and diets in 85 countries. The authors found that most national recommendations were not compatible with global environmental and health targets such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
In all 85 countries, the study revealed that people’s diets contain significantly more red and processed meat than recommended. Participants also ate less fruit, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains than optimum for a healthy and sustainable diet. Just two of the participating countries had dietary guidelines to match their health and climate targets.
“What we found when undertaking that test was revealing and shocking at the same time,” continued Springmann. “Whilst some guidelines seemed to reduce environmental resource use and pollution at the national level (i.e. compared to their high baseline; yes, I am looking at you, USA and UK), when evaluated globally, they were often woefully inadequate.”
Approximately 98 percent of all government dietary guidelines analyzed by the study failed at least one of the global health and environmental targets. While two-thirds were only compatible with one or two of the recognized global sustainability targets.
The Planetary Health Diet
Researchers also assessed the effectiveness of the Planetary Health Diet, created in 2019 by the EAT-Lancet Commission, a nonprofit that works to catalyze a sustainable global food system. The diet suggests cutting red meat consumption by 75 percent in developed countries.
Globally, the Planetary Health Diet suggests a 50 percent reduction in red meat consumption. It also recommends a 50 percent increase in the consumption of fruit, vegetables, and pulses. In 2019, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that eating less meat could significantly reduce the impact of climate change.
“If governments took seriously the large health benefits, and the economic savings associated with those (e.g. from a healthier workforce and less healthcare costs), then there should be much more investment in any such programme that is aimed at helping the population eat better,” Springmann told LIVEKINDLY.
Animal agriculture accounts for 14.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. By emphasizing the Planetary Health Diet and supporting people to meet requirements, significant reductions in emissions could be achieved. This could also reduce the number of early deaths from health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.