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Eating for Planetary Health May Substantially Lower Risk of Premature Death

People who follow a healthy, sustainable diet known as the Planetary Health Diet (PHD) can significantly reduce their risk of premature death while minimizing their environmental impact, according to a groundbreaking study led by researchers at the TH Chan School of Public Health. from Harvard. The study, which will be published online June 10 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the first large-scale investigation to directly evaluate the impacts of meeting the recommendations outlined in the landmark 2019 EAT-Lancet report.

The PHD, as defined in the report, emphasizes a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods while allowing modest consumption of meat and dairy products. “Climate change is putting our planet on the path to ecological disaster, and our food system plays an important role,” said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and corresponding author of the study. “Changing the way we eat can help slow the process of climate change. And what is healthier for the planet is also healthier for humans.”

Long-term dietary data reinforce findings

Unlike previous studies that relied on single dietary assessments, the Harvard researchers used health data spanning up to 34 years from more than 200,000 women and men enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Nurses’ Follow-up Study. Healthcare professionals. The participants, who had no major chronic diseases at the start of the study, completed dietary questionnaires every four years. Their diets were scored based on intake of 15 food groups, including whole grains, vegetables, poultry and nuts, to quantify PHD compliance.

The study found that participants in the top 10% of PHD adherence had a 30% lower risk of premature death compared to those in the lowest 10%. Additionally, all major causes of death, including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, were lower the greater the adherence to this dietary pattern.

Healthy diet for the planet linked to a lower environmental impact

In addition to the health benefits, researchers found that those with higher PHD compliance had substantially less environmental impact than those with lower compliance. This included 29% less greenhouse gas emissions, 21% less fertilizer needs and 51% less cropland use.

The researchers emphasized the importance of land use reduction as a facilitator of reforestation, which is seen as an effective way to further reduce greenhouse gas levels that are driving climate change.

“Our study is noteworthy given that the US Department of Agriculture has refused to consider the environmental impacts of dietary choices, and no reference to the environmental effects of diet will be allowed in the upcoming review of the U.S. Dietary Guides,” Willett said. “The findings show how linked human and planetary health are. “Eating healthy increases environmental sustainability, which in turn is essential for the health and well-being of all people on Earth.”

The study was funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants UM1 CA186107, P01 CA87969, R01 HL034594, U01 CA176726, U01 CA167552, R01 HL035464, R01 DK120870, and R01 DK126698.

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