Can we eat our way not only for better health, but also for a better planet? It is the question that EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (PDF) launched its global dietary recommendations for planetary health in the United Nations.
The goal of the 19 Commissioners designed by a number of environmental, agricultural and public health disciplines was to establish a scientific consensus on how to ensure a healthy diet for a growing global population while that the environment is protected.
The importance, complexity and scope of this task cannot be overstated. More than 800 million people on the planet do not have enough to eat. Meanwhile, many of the others form 7 billion. Citizen diets a pandemic of "western" diseases. Diet-driven chronic diseases have increased at alarming rates for decades.
Today, 60 percent of Americans have a chronic health condition ; 40 percent have two or more. More than half of Americans take a prescription drug the average person takes four. America is the sickest country in the developed world. Many nations follow the same trend lines. Why? Because of the food we eat.
Our diet is also the biggest contributor to global environmental degradation. The production, processing, transportation, storage and waste of our food account for a quarter of the human contribution to climate change. They also cause biodiversity and soil processes and increase air and water pollution .
So, the EAT-Lancet Commission has reached its goal of preparing a diet that can reduce chronic disease trends and environmental damage while feeding more billions of people by 2050
Unfortunately, the short answer is no. The Commission's Planetary Health Diet is brief for three reasons. First, it is based on outdated, weak nutritional science. Second, the Commission failed to achieve an international scientific consensus for its dietary targets, despite claiming to do so. Third, it has suffered from pre-stressed or at least non-representative leadership.
Nutritional Science in Revolutions
In 1980, the US government triggered a radical change in the Americans' diet by translating a diet of dietary fat and heart disease into a low fat and high carbohydrate nutritional policy for everyone. Brave changes in American diet were already driven by increased consumption of cheap starchy "staples" (corn, wheat, rice), agricultural industrialization products. Adopting the low fat / high carb model as a national nutrition policy dramatically accelerated this trend. Americans cut their consumption of natural fats found in red meat, butter, whole milk, eggs and other complete foods, replacing them with leaner meats, refined oils and even more carbohydrates.
Other countries followed, imported American dietary policies and our "healthier" low-fat, low-nutrient, high-sugar, high-carbohydrate food supply. The quality of the evidence supporting such a radical change in America's diet was questioned at that time, including by the head of the national academies of science who called for caution with the potential for tragic unintended consequences. But decision makers were eager to "do something" about the increase in cardiovascular disease and not a disadvantage. However, obesity and diabetes levels rose sharply.
To blame "weaknesses" of the most concerned has become the norm in public health circles: The premise is that people just do not follow the good advice they have been given. In fact, we have had a bad policy based on bad science. Recent studies have uncovered the history of nutritional studies ignored, poorly designed or performed, biased or even manipulated to achieve the desired result. (A multi-country study that supported most nutrition policies for decades, pointing to the health benefits of Cretan people's diet – but food data was collected during the fixed period of orthodox loans). The result has been the proof-free political decision making that has been the hallmark of American nutrition policy for nearly half a century.
A growing choir of prominent researchers and doctors requires an evidence-based revision of America's nutrition policy. Progress in epigenetics, microbiological research, neuroscience, endocrinology, psychiatry and other fields has sparked new light on the powerful role our dietary habits have on the development of specific chronic diseases. The low-fat / high-carb diet is implicated in many of the major metabolic and inflammatory diseases of our time: obesity; cardiovascular disease; diabetes; Alzheimer's disease; fat disease autoimmune conditions some cancers depression; and ADHD.
But the forces that work to maintain the status quo are very powerful. This applies to any anchored paradigm with many interested interests, in this case the food and beverage industry, the pharmaceutical industry, influential NGOs and many pockets in the academic world.
The same tactic is used to confuse the public and policy makers to halt progress with smoking clauses and action on climate change today carried out in business policy.