Article | Published:

Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health

Nature volume 515, pages 518522 (27 November 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Diets link environmental and human health. Rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats. By 2050 these dietary trends, if unchecked, would be a major contributor to an estimated 80 per cent increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing. Moreover, these dietary shifts are greatly increasing the incidence of type II diabetes, coronary heart disease and other chronic non-communicable diseases that lower global life expectancies. Alternative diets that offer substantial health benefits could, if widely adopted, reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions, and help prevent such diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases. The implementation of dietary solutions to the tightly linked diet–environment–health trilemma is a global challenge, and opportunity, of great environmental and public health importance.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Burgess, A. Clark and E. Hallström for their comments, K. Thompson for assistance with data collection, editing, and creating figures, and the LTER programme of the US National Science Foundation and the University of Minnesota Foundation for support.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • David Tilman
    •  & Michael Clark
  2. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • David Tilman

Authors

  1. Search for David Tilman in:

  2. Search for Michael Clark in:

Contributions

D.T. conceived this project and M.C. assembled data; both M.C. and D.T. analysed data and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Tilman.

All data used in our analyses are publicly available from the original sources that we list, and are provided in the Supplementary Information.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains numerous data sets used by Tilman and Clark. Each dataset is indicated by a letter (A to H) and has a descriptive title. See Methods for more details.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13959

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