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Reducing our environmental footprint and improving our health: greenhouse gas emission and land use of usual diet and mortality in EPIC-NL: a prospective cohort study

Sander Biesbroek, H Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, Petra H M Peeters, Wm Monique Verschuren, Yvonne T van der Schouw, Gerard F H Kramer, Marcelo Tyszler, Elisabeth H M Temme
Environmental Health: a Global Access Science Source 2014, 13 (1): 27
24708803

BACKGROUND: Food choices influence health status, but also have a great impact on the environment. The production of animal-derived foods has a high environmental burden, whereas the burden of refined carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit is low. The aim of this study was to investigate the associations of greenhouse gas emission (GHGE) and land use of usual diet with mortality risk, and to estimate the effect of a modelled meat substitution scenario on health and the environment.

METHODS: The usual diet of 40011 subjects in the EPIC-NL cohort was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire. GHGE and land use of food products were based on life cycle analysis. Cox proportional hazard ratios (HR) were calculated to determine relative mortality risk. In the modelled meat-substitution scenario, one-third (35 gram) of the usual daily meat intake (105 gram) was substituted by other foods.

RESULTS: During a follow-up of 15.9 years, 2563 deaths were registered. GHGE and land use of the usual diet were not associated with all-cause or with cause-specific mortality. Highest vs. lowest quartile of GHGE and land use adjusted hazard ratios for all-cause mortality were respectively 1.00 (95% CI: 0.86-1.17) and 1.05 (95% CI: 0.89-1.23). Modelled substitution of 35 g/d of meat with vegetables, fruit-nuts-seeds, pasta-rice-couscous, or fish significantly increased survival rates (6-19%), reduced GHGE (4-11%), and land use (10-12%).

CONCLUSIONS: There were no significant associations observed between dietary-derived GHGE and land use and mortality in this Dutch cohort. However, the scenario-study showed that substitution of meat with other major food groups was associated with a lower mortality risk and a reduced environmental burden. Especially when vegetables, fruit-nuts-seeds, fish, or pasta-rice-couscous replaced meat.

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