Seventh-day Adventist researchers from Loma Linda University have proposed a new field of research that would underscore the environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.
The California-based university’s School of Public Health proposes the introduction of the new field, Environmental Nutrition, in a paper that will be published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Environmental Nutrition, which combines the existing fields of earth and life sciences with nutrition science, attempts to address the sustainability of the Earth’s food systems by researching the complex relationships within those systems that affect public health, the university said.
Food systems can have a significant impact on the environment by contaminating air and water with hazardous chemicals and animal waste.
“The types and quantities of resources used influence the type and amount of pollution created, which in turn can compromise the quality of natural resources,” Helen Harwatt, a research fellow at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, said in a university statement. “It is important to identify foods that have both minimum environmental impacts and maximum health benefits, as well as develop food labels that communicate such information to consumers.”
Certain food groups require much larger resources and therefore have a larger impact on the environment, “with animal-based products generally having the greatest impacts and plant foods having the least,” the statement said.
Currently, most food life-cycle assessments focus only on food production. The Adventist researchers say the analysis should be expanded to include other stages of the food system.
The university’s proposal, introduced in a paper titled, “Environmental Nutrition: A New Frontier for Public Health,” also calls for an “Environmental Nutrition Model” to clarify the interaction between food systems, the environment, and public health.
“The [model] will help show how the process of food production, such as processing, transportation, storage, consumption, and disposal practices, directly impacts the environment and affects climate change,” said Joan Sabaté, a professor and executive director of the university’s Center for Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyle and Disease Prevention.
The university has explored the relationship between diet and the environment in the past. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2014, it found that a vegetarian or even semi-vegetarian diet is a feasible and effective tool against climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The research determined that a vegetarian diet results in nearly a third less greenhouse gas emissions than a diet with animal products.