Improving the Health of the World through Improving the Health of the U.S. Population

By Rebecca Moragne, Research-Highlights Editor

Not only are you what you eat, but your world is determined by what you eat too. A recent study published in the journal, Climate Change, by University of California Santa Barbara researchers, analyzed the effects of improving the U.S. diet on both the country’s health care and environment. The study specifically focused on how alterations to the average U.S. citizen’s diet could prevent oncoming effects of climate change. David Cleveland, the study director and research professor in UCSB’s environmental studies program and geography department stated, “People have looked at what effect diets have both on climate and on health, by they’ve never examined the potential to mitigate climate change though the food system and the health care system together” (University of California-Santa Barbara). 


The study analyzed varying diet models with reductions of red and processed meats, increases of fruits, vegetables, peas, and beans, and a replacement of most refined grains with whole grains. No alterations were made involving added sugar, dairy, eggs, fish, and non-red meat. These models revealed that by “just changing health of the diet and including only some of the diseases associated with diets, [researchers] found a huge effect” (University of California-Santa Barbara). The studied improvements to the U.S. diet reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and colorectal cancer by 20 to 40 percent, reduced health care costs by $77 billion to $93 billion annually, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 222 kilograms to 826 kilograms per person annually. These greenhouse gas emissions were directly related to those produced by the healthcare system. The current U.S. food system contributes around 30 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Since the largest percentage of the emissions contribution is due to animal-based food, by decreasing consumption of red and processed meats, researchers found a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. In terms of the future effects of improving the U.S. diet on climate change, the study’s models proved to fulfill at least 23 percent of the U.S. Climate Action Plan’s goal to decrease net greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below levels in 2005 by 2020. Ultimately, improving the U.S. diet would not only benefit the health of an individual, but would additionally benefit the health of their world.


University of California - Santa Barbara. (2017, March 8). Diet and global climate change: Eating healthier food could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says a new study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 11, 2017 from