Food systems are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. They are the main user of fresh water, a leading driver of biodiversity loss, land-use change and cause eutrophication or dead zones in lakes and coastal areas. Simultaneously, unhealthy diets are the leading risk factor for disease worldwide, causing rapidly growing rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Vast global undernutrition is adding mounting pressure to these challenges. In other words, how we grow, process, transport, consume and waste food is hurting both people and planet.

Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions means urgently and fundamentally changing the way we eat and produce food. But key questions remain unanswered and a lack of scientific consensus is slowing down governments, businesses and civil society actors who want to take action:
• We don’t have a scientific consensus to define what is a healthy diet for all humans.
• We don’t have a comprehensive review of how food production must change to be sustainable.
• We don’t have clear, science-based guidelines telling all actors how we can provide humans with healthy diets from a sustainable food system.

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health is taking on these challenges by bringing together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet. Presented on January 16, 2019, the Commission delivered the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation.

To stay within planetary boundaries, the report urges a combination of major dietary change, improved food production through enhanced agriculture and technology changes, and reduced food waste during production and at the point of consumption.

On an individual level, the scientific commission recommend diets consisting of a variety of plant-based foods, with low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars, and with unsaturated rather than saturated fats. Consumption of red meat and sugar would have to be cut by over 50 percent to ensure human and planetary health.

If the world followed this Planetary Health diet, more than 11 million premature deaths could be prevented annually. The diet addresses the global burden of disease that is linked to poor diets (including obesity, under-nutrition, and malnutrition). Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill-health worldwide, causing more death and disease than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.

The diet would cut greenhouse gas emissions to levels compatible with the Paris Agreement on climate change, while also reducing biodiversity loss and phosphorus use, and limiting agriculture’s demand for land, water and nitrogen.

To access the EAT–Lancet Commission Hub page at The Lancet, click here.

For the full report Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems (Walter Willett et al.), click here.