Issue of the Week: Hunger, Environment, Population, Disease

Billions malnourished, environment destroyed, Borneo rainforest, The Independent


Today, the Lancet medical journal released a report by an international commission of scientists.

Its such serious news that for today at least, even with all the other significant news occurring, it made headlines everywhere.

Three billion people are hungry or malnourished.

Three billion.

Two billion people are overweight or obese.

Two billion.

That’s out of the current population of the planet, 7.7 billion people.

In 2050 it will be 10 billion.

Right now, every year, there are 11 million deaths resulting from the above conditions.

Eleven million.

Every year.

And unless there’s radical change, its about to get a lot worse.

Oh, and this is all destroyoing the planet too, the commission reported, so as reported in numerous venues of fact before, without radical change, its about to get as bad as it gets.

It took over 200,000 years of human history for the world’s population to reach 1 billion. Only 200 years more to reach 7 billion. And only 40 years from there, 30 years from now, to 10 billion.

Producing enough food to feed this population, as well as saving the planet from environmental destruction, will require the most radical change in growing food and in diet in history.

The Guardian reports today:

The report acknowledges the radical change it advocates and the difficulty of achieving it: “Humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned. Achieving this goal will require rapid adoption of numerous changes and unprecedented global collaboration and commitment: nothing less than a Great Food Transformation.”

To do any of this will require global governance and basic needs and rights for all (our ongoing mantra)–a final reckoning in some ways (in some ways never final, but a revolutionary and evolutionary change of context if life on earth is to survive) with the issues of equality and control and sustainable management of resources for all. Creating fully aware public consciousness of the connection between hunger, environment, population, economic opportunity, disease, war and all their correlaries–and consequent action to create a sustainable world of equality for all–has been at the core of our mission from the outset.

Our reflections on these dynamics will continue in future.

The purpose of today’s post is to focus on the findings of the report in The Lancet.

We will let a number of articles that follow provide this focus:

New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future, say scientists:  ‘Planetary health diet’ would prevent millions of deaths a year and avoid climate change

Damian Carrington, Environment Editor, The Guardian, London, 16 Jan 2019

The first science-based diet that tackles both the poor food eaten by billions of people and averts global environmental catastrophe has been devised. It requires huge cuts in red meat-eating in western countries and radical changes across the world.

The “planetary health diet” was created by an international commissionseeking to draw up guidelines that provide nutritious food to the world’s fast-growing population. At the same time, the diet addresses the major role of farming – especially livestock – in driving climate change, the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of rivers and oceans.

Globally, the diet requires red meat and sugar consumption to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts must double. But in specific places the changes are stark. North Americans need to eat 84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils. For Europeans, eating 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds meets the guidelines.

The diet is a “win-win”, according to the scientists, as it would save at least 11 million people a year from deaths caused by unhealthy food, while preventing the collapse of the natural world that humanity depends upon. With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, a continuation of today’s unsustainable diets would inevitably mean even greater health problems and severe global warming.

Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill health worldwide, with 800 million people currently hungry, 2 billion malnourished and further 2 billion people overweight or obese. The world’s science academies recently concluded that the food system is broken. Industrial agriculture is also devastating the environment, as forests are razed and billions of cattle emit climate-warming methane.

“The world’s diets must change dramatically,” said Walter Willett at Harvard University and one of the leaders of the commission convened by the Lancet medical journal and the Eat Forum NGO. The report, published in the Lancetand being launched to policymakers in 40 cities around the world, also concluded that food waste must be halved to 15%.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” Farm yields in poorer nations must be improved to create a sustainable, healthy world, the report found.

The planetary health diet is largely plant-based and allows an average of 2,500 calories a day. It allows one beef burger and two servings of fish a week, but most protein comes from pulses and nuts. A glass of milk a day, or some cheese or butter, fits within the guidelines, as does an egg or two a week. Half of each plate of food under the diet is vegetables and fruit, and a third is wholegrain cereals.

Willett said these provide the ingredients for a flexible and varied diet: “We are not talking about a deprivation diet here; we are talking about a way of eating that can be healthy, flavourful and enjoyable.

“The numbers for red meat sound small to a lot of people in the UK or US,” he said. “But they don’t sound small to the very large part of the world’s population that already consumes about that much or even less. It is very much in line with traditional diets.”

The planetary health diet resembles those already known to be healthy, such as the Mediterranean or Okinawa diets, the researchers said.

“The planetary health diet is based on really hard epidemiological evidence, where researchers followed large cohorts of people for decades,” said Marco Springmann at Oxford University and part of the commission. “It so happens that if you put all that evidence together you get a diet that looks similar to some of the healthiest diets that exist in the real world.”

The report acknowledges the radical change it advocates and the difficulty of achieving it: “Humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned. Achieving this goal will require rapid adoption of numerous changes and unprecedented global collaboration and commitment: nothing less than a Great Food Transformation.”

But it notes that major global changes have occurred before, such as the Green Revolution that hugely increased food supplies in the 1960s. Moves to tax red meat, prevent the expansion of farmland and protect swathes of ocean must all be considered, the commission said.

Prof Guy Poppy, from the UK’s University of Southampton, and not part of the commission, said: “This ‘call to arms’ with its clear solutions is timely, comprehensively researched and deserves immediate attention.”

“This analysis is the most advanced ever conducted,” said Prof Alan Dangour, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and also not part of the team. “But there is a major question about the ability of populations to shift to such dietary recommendations and their wider public acceptability.”

Prof Nigel Scollan, at Queen’s University Belfast and part of the industry-backed Meat Advisory Panel, said: “This report tells us what we have known for millennia: an omnivorous diet is optimal. In the UK, encouraging people to eat less red meat and dairy will have little impact on the environment and is potentially damaging to people’s health.”

But Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at the Lancet, said in an editorial that global changes as set out by the planetary health diet were essential: “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

. . .

Feed the world: Experts call for vegetable-rich diet to boost health and end hunger

By Anne Gulland, Global Health Security Correspondent, The Telegraph, London, 17 January 2019

People around the world need to radically change their diets to safeguard the planet and ensure that there is enough food to feed the world’s booming population.

A report by the Lancet medical journal has called for a “Great Food Transformation” to heal the world’s “faulty food system” which sees nearly one billion people go hungry, almost two billion eat too much of the wrong type of food, and which puts unsustainable pressure on the planet.

The report, put together by 37 experts in the fields of health, agriculture and the environment from 16 countries, calls for a 50 per cent global reduction in the consumption of unhealthy food such as red meat and sugar.

And it urges a more than 100 per cent increase in the consumption of healthy food such as nuts, fruits and vegetables.

It projects that these changes will avert up to 11.6 million deaths a year, a reduction of about 23 per cent, as well as providing enough food to feed the world population, which is projected to grow to 10 billion by 2050.

The changes people would have to make to their diets depends where they live. For example, people in the United States and Canada eat almost six and a half times the recommended amount of red meat, while people in South Asia eat only half the recommended amount.

People in all countries around the world are eating more starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and cassava) than recommended, with intakes ranging from between one and a half times above recommended levels in South Asia and by seven and a half times in sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on a dietary intake of 2,500 calories a day the Lancet recommends that adults eat no more than 14 grams of red meat a day – equivalent to one rasher of bacon. They are allowed more chicken (up to 58g a day), as well as fish and seafood (up to 100g). It also recommends up to 100g a day of dairy, such as cheese and whole milk.

Adults should also eat around 300g of fresh vegetables a day, which should include equal amounts of green, leafy vegetables such as cabbage, red and orange vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes and other vegetables.

In terms of carbohydrates the diet should be made up of more whole grains such as brown rice – up to 232g a day – and fewer starchy vegetables such as potato, up to 39g. The diet does allow added sugars but just 31g a day.

Anyone changing to this diet would see an increase in their intake of most nutrients – as well as boosting consumption of healthy mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and reducing consumption of unhealthy saturated fats.

The diet also has the right amounts of essential micronutrients, such as iron, zinc, folate and vitamin A, as well as calcium.

The consumption of meat is increasingly implicated in climate change with a report last year urging people to give up red meat completely to save the planet.

Food production is responsible for up to 30 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions and 70 per cent of freshwater use, the report highlights. And agriculture occupies up to 40 per cent of global land.

The report acknowledges that a complete overhaul of the global food system would be tough and would require international cooperation, particularly on the use of land and oceans.

For example, there should be no further expansion of agricultural land into natural ecosystems and forests.

But the authors also say that for the new diet to be a success healthy food must be affordable and easily available.

One of the report authors Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, said: “We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances.

“While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies.

“The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

. . .

Planetary health diet: Developed countries must cut red meat eating by 80% to protect Earth

Plan to minimise climate change and rainforest destruction while preventing millions of premature deaths would require developed nations’ meat eating to fall by 80 per cent

Alex Matthews-King, Health Correspondent, The Independent, London, 16 Jan 2019

Scientists have drawn up a “planetary health diet” to safeguard the Earth from environmental disaster and ensure enough food is available for its booming population to stay healthy.

This would require red meat consumption to halve across the world but fall by more than 80 per cent in developed countries like the US and UK, the study says.

Dairy and sugar consumption would also need to decrease drastically, while the proportion of nuts, fruit, vegetables and legumes like lentils and chickpeas needs to double.

If this is achieved it could minimise the damaging effects of climate change, deforestation, and the loss of animal and plant species while preventing 11 million premature deaths a year.

“We are currently getting this seriously wrong,” Professor Tim Lang, one of the authors from City, University of London, said. “We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances.”

Health campaigners have already called for meat taxes to save lives, but the Eat-Lancet Commission is the first to propose a diet on environmental grounds as well. It brought together 37 experts from 16 countries specialising in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and politics to look at how a balance could be struck.

The solution, based on three years of statistical modelling, is a diet consisting of around 35 per cent of calories obtained from whole grains and tubers, and protein mostly derived from plants.

While permitting variations based on local need and culture, the recommendations, published in the ​Lancet medical journal would require meat to become a weekly or fortnightly treat rather than a daily staple.

The shift to sustainable food production requires food waste to be cut in half and no more additional land to be turned over to agriculture – as is happening with rainforests destroyed for cattle ranching and palm oil production.

To achieve this livestock and fishing subsidies would need to be abolished, with the expansion of marine conservation zones and changes to shopping habits in developed nations – as well as protections for low income groups.

Professor Johan Rockstrom, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany – who co-led the commission, said this would require “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution”.

“There is no silver bullet for combating harmful food production practices, but by defining and quantifying a safe operating space for food systems, diets can be identified that will nurture human health and support environmental sustainability.”

Free market groups and the meat and dairy industry accused the authors of pushing for the “nanny state” and said meat and dairy were a key part of good dietary health after the Lancet report found key claims, such as dairy being a integral for bone strength, were often not borne out in large studies.

Alexander Anton, secretary general of the European Dairy Association, said: “[The report] goes to the extreme to create maximum attention, but we must be more responsible when making serious dietary recommendations.“

“Milk protein has been recognised scientifically, and in EU legislation, as the most valuable protein for human consumption,” he added

. . . 

New ‘planetary health diet’ can save lives and the planet, major review suggests

By Nina Avramova, CNN, January 16, 2019

An international team of scientists has developed a diet it says can improve health while ensuring sustainable food production to reduce further damage to the planet.

The “planetary health diet” is based on cutting red meat and sugar consumption in half and upping intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts.

And it can prevent up to 11.6 million premature deaths without harming the planet, says the report published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The authors warn that a global change in diet and food production is needed as 3 billion people across the world are malnourished — which includes those who are under and overnourished — and food production is overstepping environmental targets, driving climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The world’s population is set to reach 10 billion people by 2050; that growth, plus our current diet and food production habits, will “exacerbate risks to people and planet,” according to the authors.

“The stakes are very high,” Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief at The Lancet, said of the report’s findings, noting that 1 billion people live in hunger and 2 billion people eat too much of the wrong foods.

Horton believes that “nutrition has still failed to get the kind of political attention that is given to diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria.”

“Using best available evidence” of controlled feeding studies, randomized trials and large cohort studies, the authors came up with a new recommendation, explained Dr. Walter Willett, lead author of the paper and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health.

The report suggests five strategies to ensure people can change their diets and not harm the planet in doing so: incentivizing people to eat healthier, shifting global production toward varied crops, intensifying agriculture sustainably, stricter rules around the governing of oceans and lands, and reducing food waste.

The ‘planetary health diet’

To enable a healthy global population, the team of scientists created a global reference diet, that they call the “planetary health diet,” which is an ideal daily meal plan for people over the age of 2, that they believe will help reduce chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as environmental degradation.

The diet breaks down the optimal daily intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy, protein, fats and sugars, representing a daily total calorie intake of 2500.

They recognize the difficulty of the task, which will need “substantial” dietary shifts on a global level, needing the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%. In turn, consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold, the report says.

The diet advises people consume 2,500 calories per day, which is slightly more than what people are eating today, said Willett. People should eat a “variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars,” he said.

Regional differences are also important to note. For example, countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat 1.5 times the required amount of starchy vegetables.

“Almost all of the regions in the world are exceeding quite substantially” the recommended levels of red meat, Willett said.

The health and environmental benefits of dietary changes like these are known, “but, until now, the challenge of attaining healthy diets from a sustainable food system has been hampered by a lack of science-based guidelines, said Howard Frumkin, Head of UK biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet Our Health program. The Wellcome Trust funded the research.

“It provides governments, producers and individuals with an evidence-based starting point to work together to transform our food systems and cultures,” he said.

If the new diet were adopted globally, 10.9 to 11.6 million premature deaths could be avoided every year — equating to 19% to 23.6% of adult deaths. A reduction in sodium and an increase in whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits contributed the most to the prevention of deaths, according to one of the report’s models.

Making it happen

Some scientists are skeptical of whether shifting the global population to this diet can be achieved.

The recommended diet “is quite a shock,” in terms of how feasible it is and how it should be implemented, said Alan Dangour, professor in food and nutrition for global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. What “immediately makes implementation quite difficult” is the fact that cross-government departments need to work together, he said. Dangour was not involved in the report.

At the current level of food production, the reference diet is not achievable, said Modi Mwatsama, senior science lead (food systems, nutrition and health) at the Wellcome Trust. Some countries are not able to grow enough food because they could be, for example, lacking resilient crops, while in other countries, unhealthy foods are heavily promoted, she said.

Mwatsama added that unless there are structural changes, such as subsidies that move away from meat production, and environmental changes, such as limits on how much fertilizer can be used, “we won’t see people meeting this target.”

To enable populations to follow the reference diet, the report suggests five strategies, of which subsidies are one option. These fit under a recommendation to ensure good governance of land and ocean systems, for example by prohibiting land clearing and removing subsidies to world fisheries, as they lead to over-capacity of the global fishing fleet.

Second, the report further outlines strategies such as incentivizing farmers to shift food production away from large quantities of a few crops to diverse production of nutritious crops.

Healthy food must also be made more accessible, for example low-income groups should be helped with social protections to avoid continued poor nutrition, the authors suggest, and people encouraged to eat healthily through information campaigns.

A fourth strategy suggests that when agriculture is intensified it must take local conditions into account to ensure the best agricultural practices for a region, in turn producing the best crops.

Finally, the team suggests reducing food waste by improving harvest planning and market access in low and middle-income countries, while improving shopping habits of consumers in high-income countries.

Louise Manning, professor of agri-food and supply chain resilience at the Royal Agricultural University, said meeting the food waste reduction target is a “very difficult thing to achieve” because it would require government, communities and individual households to come together.

However, “it can be done,” said Manning, who was not involved in the report, noting the rollback in plastic usage in countries such as the UK.

The planet’s health

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aimed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Meeting this goal is no longer only about de-carbonizing energy systems by reducing fossil fuels, it’s also about a food transition, said Johan Rockström, professor of environmental science at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, in Sweden, who co-led the study.

“This is urgent,” he said. Without global adaptation of the reference diet, the world “will not succeed with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

A sustainable food production system requires non-greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide to be limited, but methane is produced during digestion of livestock while nitrous oxides are released from croplands and pastures. But the authors believe these emissions are unavoidable to provide healthy food for 10 billion people. They highlight that decarbonisation of the world’s energy system must progress faster than anticipated, to accommodate this.

Overall, ensuring a healthy population and planet requires combining all strategies, the report concludes — major dietary change, improved food production and technology changes, as well as reduced food waste.

“Designing and operationalising sustainable food systems that can deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population presents a formidable challenge. Nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution,” said Rockström, adding that “the solutions do exist.

“It is about behavioral change. It’s about technologies. It’s about policies. It’s about regulations. But we know how to do this.”

CNN’s Meera Senthilingam contributed to this report.

. . .

2019: the year for nutrition

Editorial, The Lancet, January 16, 2019

Poor nutrition is a key driver and risk factor for disease. However, there has been a global failure to address this. It is everyone’s and no-one’s problem. Nutrition had no dedicated Millennium Development Goal and still has no Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). SDG 2, zero hunger, addresses only one of the many manifestations of poor nutrition. Despite several efforts, actions for improving nutrition have failed to gain global traction.

The Lancet sees new knowledge as an important lever for accelerating political commitment to address poor nutrition. In 2019, we are approaching nutrition from several perspectives. Published today, Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets for Sustainable Food Systems links nutritional targets with environmental sustainability. The Commission’s recommendations combine optimal caloric intake within food groups with boundaries for Earth systems within which food systems operate toward a diet that is healthy for humans and the planet.

On Jan 27, The Lancet will publish a second Commission that explores additional aspects of nutrition and food systems. The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Changebegan as a Commission on obesity after two Lancet Series on the subject. But the Commissioners decided to take a much broader approach because all attempts to stem the worldwide increase of obesity (with a focus on obesity alone) have failed. The triple challenges of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change, which interact and affect human and planetary health, need solutions that disrupt their common underlying societal and political drivers.

Building on these two Commissions, later in 2019 The Lancet will publish a Series of papers on the Double Burden of Malnutrition, led by WHO and informed by approaches including evolutionary anthropology and economics. Future Series will include papers on adolescent-specific nutrition. Nutrition is a vast subject that needs a multisectoral approach. Throughout this year, nutrition will be a special focus at The Lancet family of journals. Sustainable food systems that ensure health-promoting nutrition for all need urgent attention and will benefit people and planet alike.

. . .

Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems

Executive Summary and full reports at the link.