You are what you eat, as the saying goes, and while good dietary choices boost your own health, they also could improve the health care system and even benefit the planet. Healthier people mean not only less disease but also reduced greenhouse gas emissions from health care.
As it turns out, some relatively small diet tweaks could add up to significant inroads in addressing climate change.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone has done this,” said study director David Cleveland, a research professor in UCSB’s environmental studies program and geography department. “People have looked at what effect diets have both on climate and on health, but they’ve never examined the potential to mitigate climate change through the food system and the health care system together.”
The food system contributes about 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with the largest proportion coming from animal-based food.
In terms of climate policy, the healthier diets could contribute up to 23 percent of the U.S. Climate Action Plan goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, Cleveland said. Further, the diets could generate up to 134 percent of California’s goal of reaching 1990 emission levels by 2020.
According to Cleveland, the findings add weight to the conclusion of several other recent studies: Diet change must be part of successful climate change mitigation policies, and climate change mitigation must be included in policies to improve the food system.
This creates an important opportunity for the University of California, Cleveland noted. “The UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative should have a major focus on climate change mitigation via the food system,” he said. “And the UC Global Food Initiative should have a major focus on the relationships among food, climate and health.”