Researchers: Western lifestyle threatens health and the environment

Slaughterhouse. US, 2011. [Watershed Post/Flickr]

The Western lifestyle, which has proven to increase diabetes rates, obesity, cancer and carbon emissions, is both a global health and environment problem, according to a new study, but three diets can help reverse the trend.

The study, published in the scientific paper Nature shows how the world’s health and environment is affected by people’s diets.

The researchers have looked at food trends in the hundred most populated countries from 1961 to 2009. 

The study shows that food trends change with increased income and urbanisation. When it comes to diets, the trend goes towards the Western diet, which includes a lot of meat, fat and sugar, the researchers say.

At the same time as the intake of unhealthy foods increases, the amount of healthy food products also decrease. 

“Those who live in cities eat less fruit and vegetables and instead they buy take away and cheap food with empty calories,” David Tilman from the University of Minnesota told the Swedish broadcaster SVT. He added that this trend is particularly visible now in countries such as Mexico, China and Tunisia.

According to the researchers, by 2050 the world population will consume less fruit and vegetables, 60% more ’empty calories’ and around 50% more meat than today. They expect this will lead to a more obese population with more sick days, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and also certain types of cancer.

At the same time, the study reveals that the production of beef, as well as some fish, will be an environmental problem, and the amount of carbon emission from food production could double if the Western lifestyle keeps spreading across the globe.

“If this trend continues, we will be around 30% more people on Earth in 2050, but the carbon emissions will increase by 80% compared to the levels we have now,” Tilman said. “What we eat is as important for the environment as what cars we drive. The food industry contributes with more carbon emissions than what all cars and means of transport do together,” he continued.

In order to eat in a more environmentally-friendly manner, the researchers recommend following either the Mediterranean diet, to be a vegetarian, or to follow a combined vegetarian-fish diet.

What these diets have in common is that they will limit the number of diabetes cases, and decrease the number of cardiovascular disease cases, as well as possibly put a cap on carbon emissions from now until 2050. 

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