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Health–environment efficiency of diets shows nonlinear trends over 1990–2011

08 February 2024

Authors: Pan He, Zhu Liu, Giovanni Baiocchi, Dabo Guan, Yan Bai, Klaus Hubacek

Journal: Nature Food


Understanding the impacts of diets on health and the environment, as well as their association with socio-economic development, is key to operationalize and monitor food systems shifts. Here we propose a health–environment efficiency indicator defined as a ratio of health benefits and four key food-related environmental impacts (greenhouse gas emissions, scarcity-weighted water withdrawal, acidifying and eutrophying emissions) to assess how diets have performed in supporting healthy lives in relation to environmental pollution and resource consumption across 195 countries from 1990 to 2011. We find that the health–environment efficiency of each environmental input follows a nonlinear path along the Socio-Demographic Index gradient representing different development levels. Health–environment efficiency first increases thanks to the elimination of child and maternal malnutrition through greater food supply, then decreases driven by additional environmental impacts from a shift to animal products, and finally shows a slow growth in some developed countries again as they shift towards healthier diets.

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Last modified:27 February 2024 09.38 a.m.

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