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Auckland: A new study suggests that opting for a plant-based diet can come across as a potential option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also helping to improve population health.

An improvement in health eventually saves billions of dollars in the coming years too.

The results are based according to a new study experimented in New Zealand, conducted in the University of Otago.

Jono Drew, lead researcher and Otago medical student explained how the global food system is driving both the climate crisis and the growing burden of common chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

He suggested that: "International research has highlighted the climate and health co-benefits that arise from consuming a diet that is rich in plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. We wanted to understand if this holds true here in New Zealand, and to tease out which eating patterns could offer the greatest co-benefits in this context."

The team of researchers developed a New Zealand-specific food emissions database that, in estimating greenhouse gas emissions arising from foods commonly consumed in New Zealand, considers important parts of the 'lifecycle' of each food, including farming and processing, transportation, packaging, warehouse and distribution, refrigeration needs, and supermarket overheads.

The database collected was then used by the team to access climate, health, and health system cost impacts stemming from a range of dietary scenarios.

Senior author Dr Alex Macmillan, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health, said that results from the study show that greenhouse gas emissions vary considerably between different foods in New Zealand.

Animal-based foods, particularly red and processed meats, impact the climate. Those tend to be substantially higher than that of whole plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

Particular food substances that are known for giving health risks are particularly climate-polluting.

"Red and processed meat intake, for instance, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers," Dr Macmillan said.

Mr Drew said that: "Well-designed public policy is needed worldwide to support the creation of a global food system that no longer exacerbates the climate crisis, nor the burden of non-communicable disease," Mr Drew says.

The final results pitch that a population-level dietary shift could diet-related emissions along with health benefits which eventually lead to cost savings to the health system.




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