Doctors For Nutrition is among 29 health organisations calling on the Australian government to take urgent policy action to address the climate emergency and protect health.
DFN is part of a coalition of health groups led by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) calling for a national climate change response to secure a healthy, regenerative and just future.
Between August and October 2020, we took part in a roundtable series convened by the alliance. Our General Manager, Marion Meloni, joined thought leaders from multiple sectors to engage in a process of futures thinking for a health-centred post-COVID recovery.
This work fed into CAHA's updated policy roadmap entitled Healthy, Regenerative and Just: Our vision for a better future. Published on 16th November, the document sets out recommendations under eight areas of policy action to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, and deliver significant public health, economic and environmental benefits.
These include measures to transform energy, transport, infrastructure and land use systems, including a new sustainable approach to food and agriculture to improve nutrition while safeguarding the environment, achieving cost-savings and reducing the risk of new communicable disease outbreaks.
As CAHA’s Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said, “Right now, in this moment of disruption, we have the opportunity to re-shape our society for a better future.”
Building on CAHA's 2017 Climate, Health and Wellbeing Framework, the new vision now specifically advocates diets based on plants among its health-promoting and emission reducing initiatives. It also calls for research funding to establish the cost-savings of a plant-based dietary shift.
The paper promotes shifting to healthy, nutritious and sustainable diets, with an emphasis on locally sourced food from plants, recognising that land use change is the single biggest environmental driver of new disease outbreaks.
The new policy roadmap was released along with an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, calling on him to implement the recommendations as a matter of urgency.
Colleagues and friends who support this message are also warmly encouraged to email their local MP calling for action on climate and health using CAHA's template letter, which can be adapted to maximise impact.
Below, we set out some key facts and references about the health and climate benefits of whole food plant-based diets that our fellow plant-based health advocates may like to refer to when writing to their own MPs.
Whole food plant-based dietary shift for healthy people and planet
The pathway to a healthy future requires transitioning to a sustainable food system, starting now. Key to this is a shift to plant-based dietary patterns.
The world’s appetite for animal products, especially in high-income countries like Australia, has exceeded safe limits for greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient flows and biodiversity loss, and urgently needs to be scaled back.
Australia is also facing worsening rates of diet-related disease. The latest findings from the Global Burden of Disease study shows that we are living longer in poor health. Four of the five risk factors associated with the highest number of deaths and reduced healthy life years in Australia are conditions that a whole food plant-based diet has been proven to prevent and alleviate, including high blood pressure, high body-mass index, and high fasting plasma glucose.
Multiple studies confirm the benefits of replacing animal with plant protein: for example, overall mortality risk has been found to decrease by 10% for every 3% energy increment replacement of plant for animal protein.
As noted in the policy roadmap, “land-clearing, has been linked to the rise of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.” Transforming our food system towards plant-based diets has a significant role to play in mitigating this, since the main driver of land-clearing both globally and in Australia is livestock production.
Clark M et al. Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets. Science. 2020;370(6517):705-708. doi:10.1126/science.aba7357
Willett W et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. 2019;393(10170):447-492. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4
Henry et al 2019. The role of global dietary transitions for safeguarding biodiversity
Song M et al. Association of animal and plant protein intake with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. JAMA Intern Med. October 1, 2016;176(10): 1453–1463. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.4182
The Global Burden of Disease 2019. http://www.healthdata.org/gbd/2019
United Nations Global Land Outlook, 2017. https://knowledge.unccd.int/glo/GLO_first_edition
Read more about DFN's membership of the Climate and Health Alliance and our other strategic partnerships.
Learn more about our institutional advocacy work.