Looking for some motivation to eat less meat? A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America may just have the evidence you’ve been looking for–both for your health and for the health of the planet.
According to the research, conducted by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, consuming less meat could prevent 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050. Adopting a completely vegan diet, the researchers estimate, would lead to 8.1 million fewer deaths in the same time-period, significantly decreasing healthcare costs around the globe.
“What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the global environment,” the study’s lead author Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food told Reuters.
The savings would be significant, note the researchers, as much $700 billion to $1,000 billion per year on combined values of healthcare, unpaid care, and lost working days.
But it’s not just human health that benefits from the shift away from meat consumption. The researchers also noted that the impact on climate change could be reduced by major moves to a plant-based diet. The shift would also “cut food-related emissions by 29 percent, adopting vegetarian diets would cut them by 63 percent and vegan diets by 70 percent,” Reuters reported. And the savings by way of reduced greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as $570 billion.
“The researchers found that three-quarters of all benefits would occur in developing countries, although the per capita impacts of dietary change would be greatest in developed nations, due to higher rates of meat consumption and obesity,” reports Reuters.
The researchers also noted that the financial gains in reduced health care costs as a result of consuming less meat, could be even greater than the reduction of damages on the climate.
“The value of those benefits makes a strong case for increased public and private spending on program aimed to achieve healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets,” Springmann said.
The researchers noted that a reduction in meat consumption would be felt most significantly in East Asia, the West, and Latin America; and the benefits of increased fruit and vegetable consumption reducing the most preventable deaths in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Reducing overall caloric intake would reduce obesity and obesity-related illnesses globally, with the most noticeable improvements occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean, Latin America and Western nations, explaining that to achieve the guidelines would require a 50 percent decrease in red meat consumption worldwide along with a 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan,” Springmann noted, “But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.”