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Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected US diets


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Human food systems are a key contributor to climate change and other environmental concerns. While the environmental impacts of diets have been evaluated at the aggregate level, few studies, and none for the US, have focused on individual self-selected diets. Such work is essential for estimating a distribution of impacts, which, in turn, is key to recommending policies for driving consumer demand towards lower environmental impacts. To estimate the impact of US dietary choices on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and energy demand, we built a food impacts database from an exhaustive review of food life cycle assessment (LCA) studies and linked it to over 6000 as-consumed foods and dishes from 1 day dietary recall data on adults (N = 16 800) in the nationally representative 2005–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food production impacts of US self-selected diets averaged 4.7 kg CO2 eq. person⁻¹ day⁻¹ (95% CI: 4.6–4.8) and 25.2 MJ non-renewable energy demand person⁻¹ day⁻¹ (95% CI: 24.6–25.8). As has been observed previously, meats and dairy contribute the most to GHGE and energy demand of US diets; however, beverages also emerge in this study as a notable contributor. Although linking impacts to diets required the use of many substitutions for foods with no available LCA studies, such proxy substitutions accounted for only 3% of diet-level GHGE. Variability across LCA studies introduced a ±19% range on the mean diet GHGE, but much of this variability is expected to be due to differences in food production locations and practices that can not currently be traced to individual dietary choices. When ranked by GHGE, diets from the top quintile accounted for 7.9 times the GHGE as those from the bottom quintile of diets. Our analyses highlight the importance of utilizing individual dietary behaviors rather than just population means when considering diet shift scenarios.
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Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated
with production of individual self-selected US diets
Martin C Heller1,3, Amelia Willits-Smith2, Robert Meyer1, Gregory A Keoleian1and Donald Rose2
1Center for Sustainable Systems, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, 440 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI
48109-1041, United States of America
2Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, Tulane University, 1440 Canal Street, Suite 2210, New Orleans, LA
70112, United States of America
3Author to whom any correspondence should be addressed.
8 December 2017
8 February 2018
20 February 2018
20 March 2018
Original content from
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Attribution 3. 0 licence.
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of this work must
maintain attrib ution to
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Keywords: dataFIELD, cumulative energy demand, NHANES, diet shifts
Supplementary material for this article is available online
Human food systems are a key contributor to climate change and other environmental concerns.
While the environmental impacts of diets have been evaluated at the aggregate level, few studies, and
none for the US, have focused on individual self-selected diets. Such work is essential for estimating a
distribution of impacts, which, in turn, is key to recommending policies for driving consumer
demand towards lower environmental impacts. To estimate the impact of US dietary choices on
greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and energy demand, we built a food impacts database from an
exhaustive review of food life cycle assessment (LCA) studies and linked it to over 6000 as-consumed
foods and dishes from 1 day dietary recall data on adults (N= 16 800) in the nationally representative
2005–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food production impacts of US
self-selected diets averaged 4.7 kg CO2eq. person−1 day−1 (95% CI: 4.6–4.8) and 25.2 MJ
non-renewable energy demand person−1 day−1 (95% CI: 24.6–25.8). As has been observed
previously, meats and dairy contribute the most to GHGE and energy demand of US diets; however,
beverages also emerge in this study as a notable contributor. Although linking impacts to diets
required the use of many substitutions for foods with no available LCA studies, such proxy
substitutions accounted for only 3% of diet-level GHGE. Variability across LCA studies introduced a
±19% range on the mean diet GHGE, but much of this variability is expected to be due to differences
in food production locations and practices that can not currently be traced to individual dietary
choices. When ranked by GHGE, diets from the top quintile accounted for 7.9 times the GHGE as
those from the bottom quintile of diets. Our analyses highlight the importance of utilizing individual
dietary behaviors rather than just population means when considering diet shift scenarios.
Agriculture is a key contributor to many environmen-
tal problems, including climate change, biodiversity
loss and land and freshwater degradation [1]. Repeated
projection studies have shown that closing global yield
gaps through sustainable intensification measures will
not be sufficient to simultaneously prevent further
agricultural expansion and achieve the deep emission
cuts needed to meet the COP-21 Paris Agreement on
combating climate change. Demand-side reductions
will also be necessary [25]. Thus, diet composition
has been identified as an important leverage point in
reducing the environmental impact of food systems
and in freeing up production capacity to feed future
population growth.
Considerable efforts have been made in recent
years to evaluate the environmental impact of dietary
choices [610]. The bulk of this effort has evalu-
ated aggregated (i.e. average) or stereotyped diets in
European countries, with a focus on climate change
impacts. Only a handful of studies have evaluated
the environmental impact of diets in the US [1115].
Very few studies, and none in the US, have evaluated
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
the impacts of individual self-selected diets [1619].
Even the few studies that have attempted this assess
only a percentage of foods consumed. Individual-level
data are needed for more nuanced modeling of dietary
change policies since they allow for understanding the
range of impacts within a population and for link-
ing of individual-level demographics (e.g. age, gender,
race-ethnicity, education, nutrition knowledge, envi-
ronmental attitudes, etc.) to the dietary behaviors of
these groups and their environmental impacts. Under-
standing the relation of specific diets to hea lth outcomes
also benefits from having the full range of diets chosen
by individuals in a population.
A major challenge in this field of research is the
establishment of environmental impacts for the diver-
sity of foods in self-selected diets. For example, while
a typical study based on aggregated national food pat-
terns might include impacts on a few hundred foods
[11], databases that support individual diet surveys
contain thousands of items, many of which are complex
recipes (e.g. lasagna) or have not been studied in the
life cycle assessment (LCA) literature (e.g. blackberry).
Our aim is to evaluate the greenhouse gas emis-
sions (GHGE) and non-renewable cumulative energy
demand (CED) associated with a representative sam-
ple of self-selected, individual diets in the US. To do
this and address the challenge described above, we have
developed dataFIELD (database of Food Impacts on the
Environment for Linking to Diets) based on an exhaus-
tive review of the literature. We have also developed an
approach for linking it to dietary recall data from the
US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Individual, 1 day dietary recall data (18+years of age,
N= 16 800) from NHANES for 2005–2010 serves as
the basis for individual food choices studied here.
NHANES sampling is selected to represent the US
civilian non-institutional population, and the dietary
recall data contain reference to 6492 specific foods and
dishes [20]. Many of these food items are prepared
foods (e.g. pepperoni pizza) and require recipes to
assign to the commodity foods typically represented
in LCA studies. In order to enable diet-level analysis
of pesticide and other residues in food commodi-
ties, the US EPA developed the Food Commodities
Intake Database (FCID) which links specific food items
in NHANES through standardized recipes to foods
in agricultural commodity form [21]. We utilize this
database to connect as-consumed foods in NHANES t o
332 commodity forms, which were in turn connectedto
environmental impacts based on our literature review.
4NHANES dataset with GHGE per person for day one diets
and accompanying documentation will be available at: https://sph.
Literature review of food LCA data
We conducted a systematic search in Web of Sci-
ence and Google Scholar databases. Search terms
included combinations of LCAand life cyclewith
food. Further refined searches targeted individual
underrepresented foods. In addition, collected cita-
tions were cross-referencedwith the extensive review by
Clune et al [22] and relevant additional citations were
included. The literature review was limited to reports
available in the public domain. Articles and reports
written in English and published in 2005–2016 that
applied LCA methods to one or more food products
and provided primary (i.e. not cited from elsewhere)
mid-point impact assessment of GHGE and/or CED
were reviewed and inventoried. Peer reviewed jour-
from governmental and non-governmental organiza-
tions (including theses) were considered. Additional
details about our methodology as well as the full listing
of references included in our database, dataFIELD5,
is provided in supporting information available at
consistency, mid-point indicator values were adjusted
to a functional unit of kg of food,with meat and
fish/seafood adjusted to kg of edible boneless weight.
See supporting information for details on conversion
factors used.
Linking to dietary database
To link environmental impacts to the 332 commodity
foods in FCID, we followed a four-step process (see
table 1). First, we used data from original research on
specific foods inventoried in the literature review, as
imum and maximum values for CED and GHGE at
farm gate and at processor gate were calculated for
each specific food, and then matched to the FCID.
Studies of heated greenhouse vegetable production or
those of beef from dairy herds were not included in
our averages because information on market share of
these production methods is unavailable or unreliable.
Second, if we did not have an original research report
on an FCID food, we turned to reports with previously-
compiled food LCA data to supply environmental
impacts [2329]. These resources contained data not
captured in the literature review, perhaps due to
non-English language reports or proprietary sources.
Overall, for stage 1 and 2 of the linkage process, CED
matches were made for 35% of the food commodi-
ties, and GHGE matches for 47%. Third, remaining
FCID foods were populated with values from simi-
lar foods as proxies. Specifically, we took an average
of either CED or GHGE values from existing entries
within a specific food grouping (e.g. berries, brassi-
cas, brassica greens, citrus, fresh herbs, grains, other
5The complete dataFIELD database is available at: http://css.
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
Table 1. Process for assigning environmental impact data to FCID commodities.
Stage Approach for assigning environmental
impact data to each specific
Example % of FCID foods
assigned in stage
FCID food commodity GHGE CED
1 Mean of values from literature review An average of 96 studies on beef for GHGE, 19
studies for CED
2 Aggregated value from a report with
previously compiled impact data
Kale, from [23]
47% 35%
3 Proxy assignment from stage 1 or 2
foods in the same group OR from
stage 1 or 2 foods of similar form
Average of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for
Brussels sprouts OR bananas for plantains;
escarole for radicchio
39% 50%
4 Mass conversion factor applied to
base fruit/vegetable
Strawberry values converted for strawberry juice
(mass conversion with processing energy added)
15% 15%
greens, nuts, roots, dried spices, other tree fruit, trop-
ical fruit) to proxy for a specific food item in that
same grouping that was lacking data. Failing this
approach, other proxies of foods with similar form
were then assigned. These assignments were based on
similarities of specific crops in their botany and, most
importantly, production methods, as determined by
the expertise of our research team. Values that were
assigned from other foods in the database in this third
stage accounted for 50% of CED values and 39%
of GHGE values. Fourth, the FCID dataset includes
minimally processed forms of fruits and vegetables
(e.g. strawberry juice, dried apples). Where direct LCA
matches were not available for these forms, we applied
a mass conversion factor, gathered from nutritional
databases [30,31], to the base fruit or vegetable in
order to approximate the agricultural production bur-
dens of these processed forms. This stage accounted
for the remaining 15% of CED and 15% of GHGE
values for FCID foods. For juices, vinegar and maple
syrup, additional sources were used to develop valid
estimates. These additions are detailed in supporting
Because of the inconsistency in full life cycle bound-
ary conditions across the literature review entries,
cradle-to-farm gate impact factors were chosen for
the vast majority of foods. This choice is further
supported by the fact that these commodity foods,
in many cases, become ingredients in processed, as-
consumed foods, and inclusion of life cycle stages
downstream from the farm gate would not neces-
sarily reflect impacts of the actual foods consumed.
The exceptions to this farm gate boundary condi-
tion are foods within the FCID listing that require
processing: flours, refined sugars, vegetable oils, etc
supporting information contains additional details on
these boundary condition choices, as well as an envi-
ronmentally extended input-output based estimate of
the cumulative food processing impacts excluded in
this analysis.
Impact factor variability estimates
Variability is expected in the LCA data gathered for
a given food type, both due to differences in agro-
climatic conditions and production practices, as well
as LCA methodological approaches such as allocation
choice. To characterize this variability and estimate
its influence on the impacts of diet, we calculated a
95% confidence interval around the average impact
for each food, based on the observations for that food
(or related foods) that we found in the literature.
If there were too few observations for a given food
to calculate a confidence interval, we used the con-
fidence interval for a related food or group of
foods. We used the lower and upper bounds of this
confidence interval in subsequent calculations of diet-
level variability. Supporting information also contains
Linking to NHANES and diet-level calculations
The FCID database contains a recipe file that links
foods as reported by NHANES respondents to ingre-
dients in the form of commodities. For example, the
recipe for 100 grams of lasagna with meat,which
is one of 17 lasagna dishes reported by respondents,
contains gram quantities of commodities, includ-
ing wheat flour, milk, beef, tomato, etc. We linked
impacts from dataFIELD to these FCID commodities
and adjusted for recipe quantities and amounts eaten in
order to assign impacts for each food consumed during
the 24 hour recall day as reported by each respondent.
See supporting information for a complete listing of
FCID foods and impacts. In some cases, when there
was sufficient LCA literature to describe the impact
of processed foods (specifically: cheese, yogurt, tofu,
beer, carbonated drinks, and liquor) we linked directly
from dataFIELD to NHANES, without using the FCID
recipes. For alcoholic beverages, we created our own
recipe file for linking from FCID to NHANES. The
impacts of edible losses were calculated for the amount
of each commodity consumed using loss factors from
the USDAs Loss-Adjusted Food Availability (LAFA)
data series [32]. Commodity items were assigned retail
(edible food lost at outlets such as supermarkets and
restaurants) and consumer (cooking losses and uneaten
food) loss factors from the matching LAFA commodity.
If there was not a direct match, the food was assigned
loss factors for something similar (e.g. apple juice fac-
tors for apricot juice) or for an average of similar
items (e.g. an average of loss factors for blueberries,
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
Table 2. Characterization of literature review and linkage to the FCID, by food group.
Food groups % of lit. review
% of FCID foods in group
requiring proxyb
% of group level impact from
Vegetables 16.8 96 64 72 7.8 18.0
Meats 16.1 10 30 80 0.1 5.6
Beverages 13.4 34 65 68 22.7 10.2
Fruits 12.7 66 55 71 6.2 17.6
Dairy 11.4 3 0000
Fish and seafood 9.1 6 01709.9
Cereals and grains 6.4 27 52 56 8.0 10.2
Nuts and seeds 4.0 21 48 76 5.2 44.9
Eggs 2.1 1 0000
Oils and fats 2.1 13 31 31 0.6 0.4
Legumes 1.8 24 54 67 26.7 59.1
Sweeteners 1.0 9 33 33 42.0 50.1
Other 3.0 22 73 82 4.1 7.3
Total diet 332 55 66 2.6 8.2
aFull listing of FCID foods and their impact factors is provided in supporting information. The six processed foods (beer, carbonated drinks,
liquor, cheese, yogurt, tofu) not specified in FCID and directly linked to NHANES (i.e. without use of FCID recipe files) in our analysis are
included here.
bIncludes both proxy levels 3 and 4 (see table 1).
Table 3. GHGE and CED of self-selected US diets (age 18+,n= 16 800) using average LCA impact factors.
Consumed Food loss contributions Consumed +all losses
MeanaSEaRetail lossesbConsumer lossesbMeanaSEa
GHGE (kg CO2eq. per capita) per day 3.58 0.04 0.25 0.89 4.72 0.05
per 1000 kcal 1.67 0.01 0.12 0.42 2.21 0.02
CED (MJ per capita) per day 18.87 0.20 1.41 4.89 25.17 0.30
per 1000 kcal 8.92 0.07 0.68 2.35 11.95 0.11
aMean values are calculated using the average impact factor for each food in dataFIELD. SE=standard error of the mean, which takes into
account variability in diets from one individual to the next, but not variability in the assessments of environmental impacts for a given food.
(See figure 1and accompanying discussion for low and high distributions that do take into account variability in these assessments for each
food.) Calculations account for the complex survey design and sampling weights of NHANES.
bFood losses based on USDAs Loss Adjusted Food Availability dataset (see Methods).
raspberries, and strawberries for huckleberries). After
assigning impacts to each food consumed, we summed
impacts over the entire day for each individual.
All analyses accounted for the NHANES sampling
weights and survey design parameters.
Literature review characterization
Our comprehensive literature review resulted in 1645
entries (combinations of food types and production
scenarios) from 321 unique sources (listed in support-
ing information). System boundaries varied across the
LCA studies inventoried: while nearly all entries con-
sidered some form of agricultural production, 51%
accounted for processing beyond farm gate, 19% fol-
lowed products through to retail/regional distribution
hubs, and 6% included some form of use (con-
sumption) phase. Supporting information contains
additional information on the distribution of entries by
publication type and geographic origin of production.
Food database linkage characterization
Environmental impacts were assigned for the 332
unique food commodity forms in the Food Commodi-
ties Intake Database (FCID), and for seven additional
foods linked directly to NHANES. Table 2shows the
distribution by literature review entries broken down
by broad FCID food groups, with meat, fruit, vegeta-
bles and dairy accounting for more than half of the
entries. Table 2also shows the number of FCID foods
in each of these groups, as well as the percentage of
foods in these groups requiring proxy values. While
55% of foods required proxy in calculating GHGE
for the total diet, these foods accounted for only 3%
of total impact. This is because the foods requiring
proxies tend to be low impact and less frequently
consumed foods. For example, the meats group con-
tributed 57% of dietary GHGE (see table 4), but only
0.1% of this groups impact came from proxies. There
were a number of proxies used in the legumes group,
accounting for 27% of the GHGE from this group.
However, legumes contributed only 0.3% of total
dietary GHGE (table 4), so proxied legumes account
for only 0.09% of total dietary GHGE.
US diet impact characterization
The NHANES dietary intake survey is representative
of the US population. Thus, linking dataFIELD to the
individual, self-selected diets from NHANES offers a
way to estimate the distribution of diet-related impacts
across the population on a given day. Table 3summa-
rizes these results at the distribution mean for the total
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
probability density
GHGE (kg CO2eq per person per day)
mean food impact factors
lower bound food impact factors
upper bound food impact factors
Quintile description for distribution based on mean food
impact factors (blue curve)
Quintile Quintile range
(kg CO2eq)
Contribution of quintile
to total US diet GHGE
1 <1.94 6%
21.94 – 2.95 10%
32.95 – 4.32 15%
44.32 – 6.91 23%
5 >6.91 46%
Descriptive statistics
mean median
(kg CO2eq per person per day)
4.7 3.6
3.8 2.8
5.6 4.3
Figure 1. Distribution of diet-relat ed GHGE per person per day amo ng US adults, National Health an d Nutrition Examination Survey
2005–2010. Data are based on one 24 hour dietary recall per person and include estimated retail- and consumer-level food losses.
Distribution in blue is based on using the mean impact (GHGE/kg food) for each food in our database. Distributions in red and green
are based on impact factors (GHGE/kgfood) at the lower and upper bounds, respectively, of a 95% confidence interval around these
mean estimates of impact for each food.
Table 4. Contributions by food groups to impacts of 1 day diets for all diets and for those ranked at the lower and higher quintile by GHGE.
% contribution to total GHGEaSum of GHGE per daya
(metric tons CO2eq. per day)
all diets 1st quintile 5th quintile all diets 1st quintile 5th quintile
Meats 56.6 27.1 70.0 5 95 514 16 458 3 35 141
Dairy 18.3 28.1 11.4 1 92 844 17 066 54 794
Beverages 5.9 11.5 3.7 61 777 6985 17 571
Fish and seafood 5.8 3.4 7.5 60 579 2094 35 826
Eggs 2.8 4.9 1.6 29 815 3009 7469
Vegetables 2.6 5.8 1.5 27 056 3525 7163
Cereals and grains 2.1 5.8 1.1 22 321 3500 5122
Fruits 1.6 4.0 0.9 16 535 2422 4178
Sweeteners 1.4 3.1 0.8 15 064 1903 3864
Other 1.2 2.1 0.7 12 645 1249 3427
Oils and fats 1.0 2.4 0.5 10 306 1464 2564
Nuts and seeds 0.4 0.9 0.2 4154 536 1012
Legumes 0.3 1.0 0.1 3535 617 688
Total of all foods 10 52 146 60829 478819
Mean caloric intake per capita (kcal per day) 2153 1323 2984
aEnvironmental impacts (including retail and consumer losses) for specific foods were summed within each broad food group for each
individual (based on NHANES 2005–2010 24 hour diet recall, adults aged 18 and over; N= 16 800), an d then aggregated acro ss all individuals
in the relevant category (total population, 1st quintile, or 5th quintile).
population on both a per day basis as well as normal-
ized to 1000 kilocalories (kcal) dietary intake. Tables
3also demonstrates the contribution of food losses to
the environmental impact of diet.
Figure 1provides the distribution of diet-related
GHGE per person per day across the self-selected
diets from NHANES. An analogous figure for
CED is included in supporting information. While
the distribution in figure 1shows a sharp rise
to a peak in the distribution curve at around
2.2 kg CO2eq person−1 day−1, there is also a long tail
on the distribution (truncated in figure 1:truncated
tail represents 1.3% of totalimpacts). The 20% of diets
with the highest carbon footprint account for 45.5% of
the total diet-related emissions. Also shown in figure
1is a range of distributions representing the influ-
ence of variability in emissions due to food production
methods and LCA modeling.
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
The distribution of GHGE by food group for all 1
day diets as shown in table 4is quite typical of Western
dietary patterns, with the dominant impacts coming
from meats and dairy. An analogous table for CED is
included in supporting information. For the total pop-
ulation, 80.6% of the meats group GHGE comes from
beef, 9.5% from poultry, 8.5% from pork, with other
meats making up the remaining 1.5%. Of interest is
the relatively high (5.9% of GHGE, 16.0% of CED)
contribution from beverages (tap and bottled water,
carbonated drinks, coffee, tea, juices, beer, wine and
spirits). Beverages have not always been identified as
a separate food group in past diet impact assessments,
but were the third most impactful group in our analysis.
Across the total population, fruit and vegetable juices
make up 33% of the GHGE in the beverages group,
followed by coffee, beer, carbonated drinks, cocktails,
and wine at 20%, 19%, 9.6%, 8.9% and 7.0%, respec-
tively. Bottled water, tap water and tea contribute less
than 2% each.
Table 4also shows how the contribution by food
group differs between lower-impact (1st quintile) and
higher-impact (5th quintile) diets. For the higher-
impact diets, meats account for 70% of total diet
GHGE, whereas they only account for 27% with
lower-impact diets. In part, this has to do with the
makeup of the meats group in each of the two quin-
tiles. Whereas poultry is the largest contributor in the
first quintile (55% of meats group GHGE), beef con-
tributes 91% of meat GHGE in the fifth quintile diets.
Although for some food groups the percent contri-
butions in table 4decline from the 1st to the 5th
quintiles (e.g. dairy % contribution to GHGE drops
from 28% to 11%), absolute impacts for both GHGE
and CED increase for all food groups between the
first and fifth quintile. This is largely because diets in
the 5th quintile have greater amounts of these foods
than in the 1st quintile, as suggested by the overall
caloric intakes. In terms of overall impact, increases in
beef intake account for 72% of the absolute increase
in GHGE between the diets of the first and fifth
GHGE associated with the fifth quintile are 7.9
times those of the first quintile. Total caloric intake is
an important factor in ranking impacts per day, as the
consumption of more food calories typically translates
into greater environmental impact. The fifth quintile
consumes, on average, 2.25 times the kilocalories of
the first quintile. However, even when impacts are
normalized by caloric intake, GHGE of the fifth quin-
tile are five times those of the first quintile. Although
this distribution of dietary data from NHANES is
representative of diets in the US on any given day,
there are a couple of caveats. First, self-reported diets
typically understate actual intakes. Second, a distribu-
tion of one-day diets is more disperse than a usual
intakedistribution. The low caloric intake reported
for the first quintile is, in part, a result of both
of these issues. Although we do not have a way to
calculate underreporting in this sample, we do know
that 26% of respondents in the first quintile reported
that their consumption on the recall day was much less
than usual.
The dataFIELD database described and applied here
is an important step in capturing the breadth of food
LCA studies in a form that can be linked to existing
individual dietary data. It represents one of the more
comprehensive compilations available of GHGE and
CED data on food production. Further, organizing the
database for straightforward linkage with NHANES
data creates opportunities for a wide array of future
research inquiries, including direct and indirect policy
intervention simulations. The sections below provide
further discussion on the database development and
interpretation of the diet-level results.
Literature review and dataFIELD development
The literature review that underlies development of
dataFIELD found that LCA studies that can be used
to link to dietary choices have increased significantly
in recent years, but data gaps still exist for many food
types. This is consistent with other recent reviews (e.g.
[22]). A scan of the foods requiring proxy assign-
ments in table S4 (supporting information) offers a
sense of current data gaps and a target for LCA prac-
titioners interested in filling such gaps. In addition,
many foods important to evaluation of healthful diets
with low impact—nuts, legumes, meat substitutes—
are poorly represented in the literature and deserve
additional attention. Geographical representation is
biased toward Europe. As has been customary in the
diet-LCA literature, our main estimates for diet-level
impacts are based on average LCA values applied to
each food consumed. However, unlike other studies,
we have addressed variability due to production prac-
tice, geography, or LCA method by calculating upper
and lower bounds of impacts for each food and car-
rying these estimates through to diet-level impacts. As
the NHANES dietary recall data does not specify pro-
duction methods or geographical origin, we cannot be
more precise in assigning impacts from LCA studies
to foods eaten by NHANES respondents. However,
geographical specificity becomes increasingly impor-
tant with other impact categories such as water use,
eutrophication, or land use. Although currently avail-
able data in these categories are limited, we plan to
expand our database to water and land use impacts,
specific to the US food market, in a future iteration.
It has become common practice in diet impact stud-
ies to assign proxy foods as approximations in the case
of missing data, but to our knowledge, this paper is
the first attempt to quantify the contributions from
those proxy assignments. Table 2indicates that proxy
foods contribute 3% to the average diet GHGE, and 8%
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
Figure 2. Cumulative emission intensity of US 1 day diets using average impact factors. Diets are ranked in order of impact from low
to high. Areas under the curve are proportional to the total impact, with percentage contributions by each quintile shown above the
curve. The green box represents the cumulative emissions of those originally in the 5th quintile if their diets were to shift to diets with
average emission intensities.
to CED. Proxy assignments are made based on foods
with similar production characteristics. However, even
if we assume that all of our proxy estimates are in
error by a factor of 2 (i.e. all proxy impact factors are
doubled), the mean diet-level impacts would still only
increase by 2.6% for GHGE and 8.2% for CED.
Diet-level impacts: interpretation and comparison
with previous results
This study demonstrates the disproportionate impacts
that can be caused by some types of self-selected diets.
Figure 2displays the cumulative emissions of these
diets when ranked in order of GHGE per person per
day. GHGE associated with the fifth quintile of diets
are nearly eight times that of the first quintile and three
times that of the third (middle) quintile. If the top quin-
tile of diets (representing 44.6 million Americans on a
given day6) shifted such that their associated GHGE
were aligned with the mean impact, this would rep-
resent a one-day reduction in GHGE of 0.27 million
metric tons CO2eq. (mmt), equivalent to eliminating
661 million average passenger vehicle miles7on a given
This shift—which could be done by changing
foods, reducing calories, or some combination of
these two—would be represented graphically in fig-
ure 2by removing the section of the curve above
the average emission diet line for the fifth quintile.
Current economy-wide US net emissions (based on
2015 data [34]) are 1023 mmt above the target levels
6The total population number utilized is the represented pop-
ulation for the 2005–2010 NHANES data, denoting the civilian,
non-institutionalized, age 18+population at the midpoint of the
time period: 222 909 266.
7Based on a US weighted average combined fuel economy of cars
and light trucks of 9.35kilometers (km) liter−1 (22.0 miles per gallon)
in year 2025, as submitted to the U.N. Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [35]. The
hypothetical diet shift described above, if implemented
every day of the year and met by equivalent shifts
in domestic production, would account for 9.6% of
remaining reductions necessary to meet the target. (see
supporting information for the emission reduction
calculations.) Even if high emission diets (arbitrar-
ily defined here as >25 kg CO2eq. person−1 day−1 ;
the truncated tail extending above the representation
in figure 2) are excluded from the estimate based on
a presumption that they are either atypical or that
such individuals are unlikely to shift diets, moving
the remainder of the high quintile (GHGE >6.9 but
<25 kg CO2eq. person−1 day−1) to the mean GHGE
still accomplishes 9% of the reductions necessary for
the US to meet the UNFCCC target. See supporting
information for a parallel discussion on the cumulative
impacts of food losses. Our estimates of reductions are
likely to be somewhat exaggerated because a distribu-
tion of 1 day diets is known to be more dispersed than
a distribution of usual diets [36]. This is one of the
limitations of using NHANES. Since it is based on the
24 hour diet recall tool, it also tends to underestimate
total energy intake, although this is true of all self-
reported diet instruments [37]. In fact, 24 hour recalls
provide more details about foods consumed and tend
to be less biased than food frequency questionnaires
[38]. Moreover, NHANES provides the only ongoing
nationally representative source for information about
individualsdiets. Our analysis highlights the impor-
tance of looking at individual behaviors rather than just
population means, since there is clearly a wide range of
impacts being caused by self-selected diets.
Table 5offers a comparison of the results from
this study with other reported estimates of the impacts
of the US diet, as well as self-selected diets in
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
Table 5. Comparison of studies estimating impacts of the US diet or self selected diets in other countries.
Country Diet data sourceaImpact factor data
GHGE kg CO2ecapita
−1 day−1 CED MJ capita−1
consumed consumed+losses consumed+losses
This study US NHANES national
survey (SS)
Exhaustive lit.
3.6 4.7 25.2
Heller and
Keoleian 2015 [11]
US USDA (FB) limited lit. review 3.6 5.0
Tom et al 2016
US USDA (FB) [11], lit. review 5.1 34.5
Hallstrom et al
2017 [15]
US USDA (FB) Lit. review 3.8
Vieux et al 2012
France INCA2 national
survey (SS)
Lit. review 4.2
Meier and
Christen 2013[19]
Germany German National
Nutrition Surveys
Hybrid EIO LCA 5.6 37.0
Rugani et al 2013
UK National Diet and
Nutrition Survey
(SS) +FB to
estimate waste
Lit. and other
(cradle to point of
Van Dooren et al
2014 [53]
Netherlands Dutch National
Survey (SS)
Agri-footprint data
Hendrie et al 2016
Australia Australian Health
Survey (SS)
EIO LCA 18.7b(male)
alter et al 2017
Sweden LifeGene study
Lit. identified
a(SS) = self-selected diet; (FB) = food balance.
bRepresents broader boundary conditions than other studies; includes impacts throughto the point of purchase.
other countries. When excluding studies that include
broader boundary conditions, there is strong agree-
ment across results, with a coefficient of variation of
3% for GHGE with US diets only, and 7% across all
diets. Self-reported diet surveys carry a well-known
under-reporting bias [39,40] whereas food balance
based estimates (production +imports—exports—
non-food uses ±changes in stock) are often considered
to be overestimates [41,42]. A more refined food
type characterization and a more exhaustive literature
review were utilized in this study in comparison to that
of Heller and Keoleian [11]. While beverages have not
always been delineated as such in previous studies of
diet impacts [11,12,15,19,4344], we find them
to be important contributors. This finding is further
strengthened by the fact that packaging and use phases
are not included within the boundary conditions of
our estimates. Packaging often represents a hotspot in
the life cycle impacts of beverages [4549], and use
phase activities (heating water, brewing coffee) can be
important for hot beverages [50,51].
The boundary conditions for the current study
are cradle to farm gate for most food commodities,
and include processing for the collection of FCID
foods that are minimally processed ingredients (flours,
oils, juices, etc). As such, our reported values should
be considered underestimates of actual impacts asso-
ciated with food consumption in the US as they
include the production impacts of processed food
ingredients, but not the impacts of processing
itself. Using the US Environmentally Extended Input
Output model developed by US EPA [52]andan
approach detailed in supporting information, we
estimate that food processing not captured in our
bottom-up estimates amounts to 15% of the total
cradle to processor gate (including agricultural pro-
duction sectors) GHGE. Packaging materials represent
an additional 6%. Inclusion of these missing food
processing and packaging contributions would raise
our estimates by 27%, although it is important to
note that these input-output based approximations are
made for the food and agricultural sectors in aggre-
gate, and will not apply evenly across different food
types or for specific diets (i.e. they apply only at
the mean).
Impact factor variability
In figure 1, we demonstrate the influence that food
impact factor variability, as represented by our lit-
erature review, has on the diet-level impacts of the
US population. Based on this estimated variability,
the GHGE for the mean of the population ranges
from 3.8–5.6 kg CO2eq. person−1 day−1,or±19%
of the value based on average impact factors. Vari-
ability of food production systems across geographies
and production methods is expected. In most cases,
the granularity of available LCA data is not suf-
ficient to reasonably and consistently differentiate
between these food production variables. On top of
this, methodological choices within LCAs, such as
how impacts are allocated between co-products, intro-
duce an additional level of variability between studies
Environ. Res. Lett. 13 (2018) 044004
that cannot be effectively disaggregated from pro-
duction variability. It is important to keep in mind,
however, that even if such environmental impact data
were complete, the corresponding information in diet
databases is not available. NHANES represents the best
information on diet—both in the aggregate and in
its diversity across the population—available for the
US Yet, it does not (currently) contain information
on the methods of production for food sources (e.g.
was a tomato grown in a heated greenhouse? Was it
organically grown?) or geographic origin of production
(California? Michigan? Chile?). To further refine these
estimates would require more information on foods in
the NHANES survey, as well as betterLCA data on food
production variability.
This paper describes the development of dataFIELD,
a food production environmental impact database
based on an exhaustive review of the LCA litera-
ture, and provides a framework for linking this data
with individual self-selected diets of the US popu-
lation. The study demonstrates the distribution of
diet-related GHG and energy demand intensity for
self-selected diets in the US, showing that the fifth of
the diets with the highest carbon footprint account for
46% of the total diet-related GHGE burden. Behavior
change campaigns focused on these diet types could
be an efficient and effective means of reducing US
GHGE. Campaigns targeting dietary shifts, therefore,
offer a significant opportunity for state, city, business
and other organizational policy or leadership aimed
at climate change action. Getting people to change
dietary behavior is notoriously challenging [55], and
enhanced efforts are needed to better identify effec-
tive strategies for influencing diet shifts that lead to
reduced environmental impacts.
Data gaps are often a major challenge in LCA.
This study demonstrates for the first time, however,
that foods for which no LCA data currently exist do
not represent a significant contribution to the car-
bon intensity of US diets. Further, we quantify the
influence of variability in LCA data on impacts at the
diet level to be ±19% of the mean. While current
diet recall data do not capture the information nec-
essary to do so, future work could connect food choice
and diet variation of individuals with a more precise
characterization of the supply chains producing their
food to better understand the implications of sourcing.
Given the ranges in production impacts across prac-
tices and geographies, this may also be an important
aspect in reducing food system impacts.
Future work will investigate correlations between
environmental impacts and health implications
of individual US diets, as well as elucidate associations
between population demographics and diet-related
environmental impacts. Combined, these works
provide a solid foundation for policy considerations
that acknowledge diet shifts as an instrumental com-
ponent of GHGE reduction goals.
The authors would like to acknowledge the gracious
assistance of Yi Yang of CSRA, Inc. with the USEEIO
calculations, and Brittany Kovacs and Tara Narayanan
with the LCA literature review.
This work is funded by the Wellcome Trust grant num-
ber 106854/Z/15/Z.
Martin C Heller
Gregory A Keoleian
Donald Rose
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... The database of Food Impacts on the Environment for Linking to Diets (dataFIELD) (45) provided data on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) for each food reported consumed by NHANES participants. To create dataFIELD, a systematic review of food environmental life cycle assessments (LCA) published between 2005 and 2016 was performed (n = 321 studies), which resulted in 1,645 combinations of food types and production scenarios (46). Nearly all entries accounted for impacts from agricultural production, 51% accounted for impacts from food processing, 19% accounted for impacts from retail and regional food hubs, and 6% accounted for consumer-level impacts (46). ...
... To create dataFIELD, a systematic review of food environmental life cycle assessments (LCA) published between 2005 and 2016 was performed (n = 321 studies), which resulted in 1,645 combinations of food types and production scenarios (46). Nearly all entries accounted for impacts from agricultural production, 51% accounted for impacts from food processing, 19% accounted for impacts from retail and regional food hubs, and 6% accounted for consumer-level impacts (46). Impact data for each food were averaged across studies and matched to commodities in the Food Commodity Intake Database (FCID), which provides information on the amount of approximately 500 ingredients in each food reported consumed by NHANES participants (47). ...
... Consumer food demand embodies the environmental impacts associated with the consumed portion as well as the portions lost and wasted at the retail and consumer levels, yet dataFIELD only provides the impacts associated with the consumed portion (46). Similarly, consumer food prices include the cost of the edible portion of food as well as the portions that are inedible and those that will eventually be wasted, yet PPPT only provides the prices associated with the edible portion (49). ...
Full-text available
Introduction Few studies have evaluated the sustainability of popular diet patterns in the US, which limits policy action and impedes consumer efficacy to make sustainable dietary changes. This study filled this gap by evaluating the relationship between diet quality, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), and diet cost for plant-based, restricted carbohydrate, low grain, low fat, and time restricted diet patterns. Methods Dietary data were retrieved from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2011–2018, n = 8,146) and linked with data on GHGE and food prices from publicly available databases. Diet quality was measured using the Healthy Eating Index-2015. The present study (1) compared the mean diet quality, GHGE, and diet cost between diet patterns, (2) evaluated the association of diet quality to GHGE and diet cost for each diet pattern, and (3) estimated the contribution of food sources to GHGE and diet cost for each diet pattern. Results Higher diet quality was associated with lower GHGE for the general population and for most diet patterns ( p < 0.01) except for the plant-based and time restricted diet patterns ( p > 0.05). Higher diet quality was associated with higher cost for the general population and for all dietary patterns ( p < 0.01) except the time restricted diet pattern ( p > 0.05). Protein foods, mostly beef, accounted for the largest share of GHGE (29–40%) and diet cost (28–47%) for all diet patterns except plant-based. Discussion Higher diet quality was associated with lower GHGE but was often accompanied by higher diet cost. These sustainability trade-offs can help inform major policy discussions in the US and shed light on further research needs in the area of food systems transformation.
... The grey WF is an indicator used to express the pollution associated with the production process in the entire supply chain of a product. Data on the GHGEs came from the database of Food Impacts on the Environment for Linking to Diets (data FIELDs), which was based on an extensive review of the life cycle assessment literature [25]. In the calculation of the WF and GHGEs, the values of similar foods were used for the foods that are not available in the databases. ...
... Compared with other studies that used environmental indicators calculated from similar methods, the national diet of Turkey has the lowest GHGEs (3.21 kg CO2-eq/day). GHGEs are 6.5 kg CO2-eq/day in Ireland [29], 4.70 kg CO2-eq/day in the USA [25], 3.98 kg ...
... Compared with other studies that used environmental indicators calculated from similar methods, the national diet of Turkey has the lowest GHGEs (3.21 kg CO 2 -eq/day). GHGEs are 6.5 kg CO 2 -eq/day in Ireland [29], 4.70 kg CO 2 -eq/day in the USA [25], 3.98 kg CO 2 -eq/day in Canada [30], and 3.495 kg CO 2 -eq/day in China [31]. In addition, the total WF of the national diet in Turkey was 2832 ± 1378 L/person/day (82.2% green WF, 10.2% blue WF, and 7.6% grey WF) in this study. ...
Full-text available
The study aimed to assess and characterize the sustainability of the national diet in Turkey and its association with diet quality, dietary requirements, and sociodemographic factors. Dietary intake was assessed using 24 h recalls from the Turkey Nutrition and Health Survey 2017 (TNHS-2017) (n = 12,527). The environmental footprints were assessed with two environmental indicators: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) and water footprint (WF). Diet quality was assessed using the diet quality index (DQI) and dietary diversity score (DDS). The dietary GHGEs was 3.21 ± 2.07 kg CO2-eq/person/day and the dietary total WF was 2832 ± 1378 L/person/day. The DQI and DDS were 62.26 ± 8.28 and 6.66 ± 1.31, respectively. Total energy intake was significantly higher in the highest GHGEs and total WF tertiles (2238 ± 722 and 2383 ± 701 kcal, respectively) compared to lower GHGEs and total WF tertiles. Individuals with higher diet-related GHGEs and total WF had a higher daily intake of nutrients with the exception of the percentages of energy supplied from carbohydrates, percentages of meeting nutrients according to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), DQI (excluding DQI total, moderation, and overall balance score), and DDS scores (p < 0.001). GHGEs and total WF value of the national diet in Turkey are lower than the world average. The results would help develop dietary guidelines to encourage sustainable dietary choices.
... Essentially, sustainable energy development should take into account not just cost savings but also the flexibility of switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and the efficiency of energy systems (Lund, 2007). DE and smaller networks are more dependable and cost-effective alternatives to large power grids, which are prone to failure and inefficiency (Heller et al. 2018). Energy expenses for homes, businesses, and industries may be reduced by raising public understanding and acceptance of DE (Mandelli et al., 2016). ...
... Recently, Europe transitioned to highly decentralised, renewable energy-based DE systems from centralised, fossil or nuclear energybased electricity delivery systems (Heller et al. 2018). The constant use of fossil fuels in China's industry, transportation, and heating is a primary cause of the nation's high pollution rates; however, Arcos-Vargas et al. (2017) predict that broad adoption of DE systems will drastically reduce these rates. ...
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In a decentralised system, energy-producing facilities are located closer to the location of energy consumption. A Decentralized Energy system decreases the need for fossil fuels, boosts eco-efficiency, and enables the best possible use of renewable energy sources and combined heat and power. The world is moving closer to achieving Sustainable Development Goals, yet many countries in the developing world continue to face mounting power challenges resulting in constant load-shedding. This is despite the fact that energy efficiency is on the verge of advancing and renewable energy is making significant progress in the electricity industry. This study seeks to determine the role and significance of a transition to a Decentralized Energy system in achieving sustainable development goal number 7. The study found that Decentralized Energy system provides a plethora of benefits to communities, for instance, local communities under decentralised energy system have an alternative that is less expensive than the centralized national grid, and they can assist generate employment opportunities in the community. The paper concludes that even though microgrids powered by renewable energy have significantly increased access to clean energy in developing world, maintaining the microgrids' capacity to operate sustainably remains a challenge.
... There is wide variation in GHGE across types of meat. For example, on an edible portion weight basis, beef is about eight times more impactful than chicken and six times more so than pork [6]. The main reason for this differential impact is that ruminant animals emit far more methane than monogastric animals, that is, those with just one stomach. ...
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Concern for the environment when making dietary choices has grown as the contribution of the food sector to global greenhouse gas emissions becomes more widely known. Understanding the correlates of beef eating could assist in the targeting of campaigns to reduce the consumption of high-impact foods. The objective of this study was to identify the demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral correlates of disproportionate beef consumption in the United States. We analyzed 24-h dietary recall data from adults (n = 10,248) in the 2015–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Disproportionate beef consumption was defined as an intake greater than four ounce-equivalents per 2200 kcal. Associations of this indicator variable with gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, family income, diet knowledge, and away-from-home meals were assessed using logistic regression, incorporating survey design and weighting. Disproportionate beef diets were consumed by 12% of individuals, but accounted for half of all beef consumed. Males were more likely than females (p < 0.001) to consume these diets. This relationship was seen in all bivariate and multivariable models. Older adults, college graduates, and those who looked up the MyPlate educational campaign online were less likely (p < 0.01) to consume a disproportionate beef diet. While almost one-third of reported consumption came from cuts of beef (e.g., steak or brisket), six of the top ten beef sources were mixed dishes: burgers, meat mixed dishes, burritos and tacos, frankfurters, soups, and pasta. Efforts to address climate change through diet modification could benefit from targeting campaigns to the highest consumers of beef, as their consumption accounts for half of all beef consumed.
... Because of positive effects for both physiological health and environmental sustainability, the reduction of meat and dairy in the diet has been widely discussed in the literature. 7,11,12,[16][17][18] It is well known that animal-based foods disproportionally contribute to land and water use, air and water pollution, and carbon footprint. Globally, at least 26% and perhaps as much as 35% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases come from food production. ...
Introduction: Climate change poses enormous threats to humanity and much of life on earth. Many of the behavioral patterns that drive climate change also contribute to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to compile and categorize the literature on interventions aimed at modifying individual behaviors to promote both personal health and environmental sustainability. Secondary objectives were to help define the emerging field of behavioral eco-wellness and to discuss future directions, including the need for assessment tools and analytic strategies. Methods: A scoping review was conducted to locate, categorize, and interpret current scientific studies of interventions aimed at changing individual behaviors to promote both personal health and environmental sustainability. Results: Other than a pilot study that this team previously conducted, nothing was found that strictly fit the inclusion criteria. However, we did find 16 relevant studies that fit neatly within 4 broad topical areas: active transportation, dietary intake, indoor air quality, and green space immersion. Discussion: While this systematic scoping review found little meeting original criteria, we did find that 4 separate fields of study are converging on a scientific area that we are calling behavioral eco-wellness, defined as the simultaneous pursuit of both personal health and environmental sustainability. The emerging field could provide a conceptual framework and methodological toolkit for those seeking to enhance sustainability while supporting health behaviors, including dietary intake. This, in turn, could help to inform and motivate the urgent action needed to confront both climate change and the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
... There are no additional studies using the GWP* metric for comparison. However, food emission calculators [36][37][38][39] and research from Australia, 3,21,[40][41][42] Spain, the United States and Canada [43][44][45] also indicate that meat, milk and discretionary foods generate large amounts of CO 2 e per day. Several very large systematic reviews 46,47 have also found ruminant meat and dairy food groups to be the highest contributors to total GHG emissions in the diets assessed and vegetables, fruits and grains to have the lowest impact. ...
Background: Immediate action is needed to stabilise the climate. Dietitians require knowledge of how the therapeutic diets they prescribe may contribute to climate change. No previous research has quantified the climate footprint of therapeutic diets. This study sought to quantify and compare the climate footprint of two types of therapeutic diets for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) with two reference diets. Methods: A usual diet for an individual with CKD and a novel plant-based diet for CKD were compared with the current Australian diet and the Australian-adapted EAT Lancet Planetary Health Diet (PHD). The climate footprint of these diets was measured using the Global Warming Potential (GWP*) metric for a reference 71-year-old male. Results: No diets analysed were climate neutral, and therefore, all contribute to climate change. The novel plant-based diet for CKD (1.20 kg carbon dioxide equivalents [CO2 e] per day) produced 35% less CO2 e than the usual renal diet for an individual with CKD (1.83 kg CO2 e per day) and 50% less than the current Australian diet (2.38 kg CO2 e per day). The Australian-adapted EAT Lancet PHD (1.04 kg CO2 e per day) produced the least amount of CO2 e and 56% less than the current Australian diet. The largest contributors to the climate footprint of all four diets were foods from the meats and alternatives, dairy and alternatives and discretionary food groups. Conclusions: Dietetic advice to reduce the climate footprint of therapeutic diets for CKD should focus on discretionary foods and some animal-based products. Future research is needed on other therapeutic diets.
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Food industries are developing new processing technologies, resulting in the emergence of new product categories, including ready-to-eat meals, functional foods and beverages, and plant-based foods, etc. Rapid globalization, changes in lifestyle, consumer awareness, and perception toward food drive further technical advancements. However, consumer perception remains the prime factor for food marketing and technological development. Consumer perception is a trifecta of sensory properties, personal and environmental factors. Sensory and personal factors include consumer age, attitude, health condition, nutrition awareness, and religion which directly influence consumer choice. Whereas environmental factors consist of regional variation in the food process, national economic status, and consumer purchasing power. All these factors affect consumers' decisions to accept or reject foods. Additionally, consumers are more willing to taste innovative food products that assure the safety and quality of the product.
Human population growth and development coupled with centuries of atmospheric colonization by the world's richest regions have now made evident a potentially irreversible disruption in the restoration capacity of the planet's ecosystems. The production, utilization, and consumption of animal products has been closely intertwined to human biologic and social evolution. This relationship is now threatening human health and the equilibrium of the planet's ecosystem. Global food production is responsible for 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) with the use of animals as a source for food, as well as livestock feed, responsible for almost 60% of all food production emissions. Consumption of a high-resource diet based on animal products without a reciprocal nutritional value while degrading the environment and animal and human health is unethical and no longer sustainable. Without a major and urgent transformation in global meat consumption, and even if zero GHGE in all other sectors are achieved, agriculture alone will consume the entire world's carbon budget needed to keep global temperature rise under 2 °C by 2050. In this viewpoint, we illustrate the impact our current food-production system has on resource utilization and human and animal health. There is an urgent need to shift to a predominantly plant-based diet to arrest and potentially revert the negative environmental, animal, and human health impact of industrial animal agriculture. Healthcare professionals have the ethical responsibility to provide evidence-based information to patients and their families for their health benefits.
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Background: Climate change is an urgent global issue and the food sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Here we study if a diet low in GHGE could be a nutritious diet compared to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR). Methods: The environmental impact of foods from Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data was linked to a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) filled out by 5,364 participants in the Swedish LifeGene study. Thereafter, we calculated the daily emission of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) as well as the intake of selected nutrients associated with vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products. The CO2e was divided into quartiles were quartile 1 corresponds to a diet generating the lowest CO2e, and quartile 4 corresponds to a diet with the highest CO2e. Results: The overall diet-related emission was 4.7 kg CO2e/day and person, corresponding to 1.7 ton CO2e/year. In general, there were only small differences in nutrient intake between groups of varying levels of CO2e, regardless if the intake was analyzed as absolute intake, energy percent or as nutrient density. Moreover, adherence to NNR was high for the group with the lowest CO2e, except for saturated fat where the intake was higher than recommended for all CO2e groups. On the other hand, only the group with the lowest CO2e fulfilled recommended intake of fiber. However, none of the CO2e groups reached the recommended intake of folate and vitamin D. Conclusions: Here we show that a self-selected diet low in CO2e provides comparable intake of nutrients as a diet high in in CO2e.
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The standard US diet contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) from both the food system, and from the health system through its contribution to non-communicable diseases. To estimate the potential for diet change to reduce GHGE and improve public health, we analyzed the effect of adopting healthier model diets in the USA on the risk of disease, health care costs, and GHGE. We found that adoption of healthier diets reduced the relative risk of coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes by 20–45%, US health care costs by US$B 77–93 per year, and direct GHGE by 222–826 kg CO2e capita⁻¹ year⁻¹ (69–84 kg from the health care system, 153–742 kg from the food system). Emission reductions were equivalent to 6–23% of the US Climate Action Plan’s target of a 17% reduction in 2005 GHGE by 2020, and 24–134% of California’s target of 1990 GHGE levels by 2020. However, there is potential for investment of health care savings to result in rebound up to and greater than 100%, which would increase net GHGE. Given the urgency of improving public health and of mitigating GHGE over the short term, the potential contribution of diet change, and the options for reducing rebound, deserve more research in support of policy.
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Food production is a major driver of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water and land use, and dietary risk factors are contributors to non-communicable diseases. Shifts in dietary patterns can therefore potentially provide benefits for both the environment and health. However, there is uncertainty about the magnitude of these impacts, and the dietary changes necessary to achieve them. We systematically review the evidence on changes in GHG emissions, land use, and water use, from shifting current dietary intakes to environmentally sustainable dietary patterns. We find 14 common sustainable dietary patterns across reviewed studies, with reductions as high as 70–80% of GHG emissions and land use, and 50% of water use (with medians of about 20–30% for these indicators across all studies) possible by adopting sustainable dietary patterns. Reductions in environmental footprints were generally proportional to the magnitude of animal-based food restriction. Dietary shifts also yielded modest benefits in all-cause mortality risk. Our review reveals that environmental and health benefits are possible by shifting current Western diets to a variety of more sustainable dietary patterns.
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Population dietary guidelines have started to include information about the environmental impacts of food choices, but more quantifiable evidence is needed, particularly about the impacts associated with discretionary foods. This paper utilised the 2011–2012 Australian Health Survey food intake data along with a highly disaggregated input–output model to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) of Australians' dietary intake, and compare current patterns of eating which vary in diet quality and GHGe to the recommended diet. The average dietary GHGe were 18.72 ± 12.06 and 13.73 ± 8.72 kg CO 2 e/day for male and female adults, respectively. The correlation between total energy and GHGe was r = 0.54 (p < 0.001). Core foods contributed 68.4% and discretionary foods 29.4%. Within core foods, fresh meat and alternatives (33.9%) was the greatest contributor. The modelling of current dietary patterns showed the contribution of discretionary foods to GHGe was 121% greater in the average diet and 307% greater in the " lower quality, higher GHGe " diet compared to the recommended diet. Reducing discretionary food intake would allow for small increases in emissions from core foods (in particular vegetables, dairy and grains), thereby providing a nutritional benefit at little environmental expense. Public health messages that promote healthy eating, eating to one's energy needs and improved diet quality will also contribute to lowering GHGe.
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This paper describes the Observing Protein and Energy Nutrition (OPEN) Study, conducted from September 1999 to March 2000. The purpose of the study was to assess dietary measurement error using two self-reported dietary instruments-the food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and the 24-hour dietary recall (24HR)-and unbiased biomarkers of energy and protein intakes: doubly labeled water and urinary nitrogen. Participants were 484 men and women aged 40-69 years from Montgomery County, Maryland. Nine percent of men and 7% of women were defined as underreporters of both energy and protein intake on 24HRs; for FFQs, the comparable values were 35% for men and 23% for women. On average, men underreported energy intake compared with total energy expenditure by 12-14% on 24HRs and 31-36% on FFQs and underreported protein intake compared with a protein biomarker by 11-12% on 24HRs and 30-34% on FFQs. Women underreported energy intake on 24HRs by 16-20% and on FFQs by 34-38% and underreported protein intake by 11-15% on 24HRs and 27-32% on FFQs. There was little underreporting of the percentage of energy from protein for men or women. These findings have important implications for nutritional epidemiology and dietary surveillance.
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To meet the 2°C climate target, deep cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be required for carbon dioxide from fossil fuels but, most likely, also for methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture and other sources. However, relatively little is known about the GHG mitigation potential in agriculture, in particular with respect to the combined effects of technological advancements and dietary changes. Here, we estimate the extent to which changes in technology and demand can reduce Swedish food-related GHG emissions necessary for meeting EU climate targets. This analysis is based on a detailed representation of the food and agriculture system, using 30 different food items.
National-scope environmental life cycle models of goods and services may be used for many purposes, not limited to quantifying impacts of production and consumption of nations, assessing organization-wide impacts, identifying purchasing hot spots, analyzing environmental impacts of policies, and performing streamlined life cycle assessment. USEEIO is a new environmentally extended input-output model of the United States fit for such purposes and other sustainable materials management applications. USEEIO melds data on economic transactions between 389 industry sectors with environmental data for these sectors covering land, water, energy and mineral usage and emissions of greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants, nutrients and toxics, to build a life cycle model of 385 US goods and services. In comparison with existing US input-output models, USEEIO is more current with most data representing year 2013, more extensive in its coverage of resources and emissions, more deliberate and detailed in its interpretation and combination of data sources, and includes formal data quality evaluation and description. USEEIO was assembled with a new Python module called the IO Model Builder capable of assembling and calculating results of user-defined input-output models and exporting the models into LCA software. The model and data quality evaluation capabilities are demonstrated with an analysis of the environmental performance of an average hospital in the US. All USEEIO files are publicly available bringing a new level of transparency for environmentally extended input-output models.
This paper presents the results of a systematic literature review of greenhouse gas emissions for different food categories from life cycle assessment (LCA) studies, to enable streamline calculations that could inform dietary choice. The motivation for completing the paper was the inadequate synthesis of food greenhouse gas emissions available in the public domain. The paper reviewed 369 published studies that provided 1,718 global warming potential (GWP) values for 168 varieties of fresh produce. A meta-analysis of the LCA studies was completed for the following categories: fresh vegetables (root vegetables, brassica, leaves and stems); fresh fruits, (pepo, hesperidium, true berries, pomes, aggregates fruits and drupes); staples (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and rice); dairy (almond/coconut milk, soy milk, dairy milk, butter and cheese); non-ruminant livestock (chicken, fish, pork); and ruminant livestock (lamb and beef). The meta-analysis indicates a clear greenhouse gas hierarchy emerging across the food categories, with grains, fruit and vegetables having the lowest impact and meat from ruminants having the highest impact. The meta-analysis presents the median, mean, standard deviation, upper and lower quartile, minimum and maximum results for each food category. The resultant data enables streamline calculations of the global warming potential of human diets, and is illustrated by a short case study of an Australian family’s weekly shop. The database is provided in the Appendix as a resource for practitioners. The paper concludes with recommendations for future LCA studies to focus upon with respect to content and approach
Objective: To evaluate what is known about the relative health impacts, in terms of nutrient intake and health outcomes, of diets with reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Design: We systematically reviewed the results of published studies that link GHGE of dietary patterns to nutritional content or associated consequences for health. Setting: We included studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals that included data on actual and modelled diets and enabled a matched comparison of GHGE with nutrient composition and/or health outcomes. Subjects: Studies included used data from subjects from the general population, who had taken part in dietary surveys or prospective cohort studies. Results: We identified sixteen eligible studies, with data on 100 dietary patterns. We present the results as dietary links between GHGE reduction and impact on nutrients to limit (n 151), micronutrient content (n 158) and health outcomes (n 25). The results were highly heterogeneous. Across all measures of 'healthiness', 64 % (n 214) of dietary links show that reduced GHGE from diets were associated with worse health indicators. However, some trends emerged. In particular, reduced saturated fat and salt are often associated with reduced GHGE in diets that are low in animal products (57/84). Yet these diets are also often high in sugar (38/55) and low in essential micronutrients (129/158). Conclusions: Dietary scenarios that have lower GHGE compared with average consumption patterns may not result in improvements in nutritional quality or health outcomes. Dietary recommendations for reduced GHGE must also address sugar consumption and micronutrient intake.