Man vs Food: EAT-Lancet’s diet great for tackling climate change, but 1.58 billion people can’t afford it

Published: November 18, 2019 12:25:43 AM

The analysis for the cost study happened in three stages. Researchers, in the first stage, analysed the information on locally available foods—for which data was available—to mark out the lowest-cost products needed to meet the Commission’s dietary recommendations.

Man, Food, EAT, Lancet, climate change, population, global population, WHOAround 2.5 billion people, as per a WHO report, suffer from some form of malnutrition.

By Arjun Mukherjee

The World Bank last year highlighted that over 1.9 billion people or 26.2% of the world’s population were living on less than $3.20 per day, consequently, 46% of the population was living on $5.50 per day. If everyone in the world was to start caring about the environment, a new study published in Lancet points, they may be spending over 50% of their income on food that saves the environment.

Around 2.5 billion people, as per a WHO report, suffer from some form of malnutrition. In order to feed a growing population, large-scale agrarian production and modern techniques of farming are required. Feeding the hungry is certainly a concern, but it also attracts its fair share of criticism. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that land use and management needs to restructure itself in order to meet the 1.5 degree celsius targets. More important, IPCC says that the world needs a transition to plants-based diet from a meat-based one.

Keeping the growing malnourishment and climate change in mind—of course, the soaring temperatures are a concern—EAT-Lancet commission in January came out with a research for sustainable diets. The diet recommended 800 calories from whole grains, 204 calories from fruits and vegetable, and not more than 30 calories from red meat—keeping in mind that the average adult needs 2,500 calorie intake per day.

But now a study seems to point that even though the diet may be sustainable, it comes at a high cost. A team of researchers from IFPRI and the Friedman School of Science and Policy at Tufts University, USA have calculated the costs of this diet. Their research titled, Affordability of the EAT-Lancet reference diet: a global analysis was recently published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, notes that at $2.84 (Rs 200) per day with the minimum costs globally for the recommended diet, around 1.58 billion people worldwide will not be able to afford it. The research found that the cost of the diet in low-income countries would amount to 89.1% of their household’s daily per capita income. Even though the EAT-Lancet study highlights that such diet would sustain a population of 10 billion till 2050, where is the money going to come from?

The analysis for the cost study happened in three stages. Researchers, in the first stage, analysed the information on locally available foods—for which data was available—to mark out the lowest-cost products needed to meet the Commission’s dietary recommendations. Then, cost of the diet was compared to that of the average household per capita income and affordability was calculated. In the third stage, the least costly EAT-Lancet diet, was compared to the least-cost combination of foods that fulfill the intake of 20 essential nutrients—EAT-Lancet diet was found to be 64% more costly. To find out the minimum cost needed for the EAT-Lancet diet the researchers jotted down retail prices obtained from the International Comparison Program—a collaboration between the World Bank and statistical agencies of countries. They used prices for 744 food items in 159 countries for identifying the lowest-cost combination of items. It was then done for the minimum nutrient requirements, and correlated with each country’s cost of food with surveyed data on household income and expenditure per capita from the World Bank’s PovcalNet system.

It was found that in high-income countries the diet would be 6.1% of per capita income. However, in sub-Saharan Africa it was found that around 57.2% people earn less than the local cost of Commission’s recommended diet, the figure was 19.4% for Middle East and North Africa, 38.4% for South Asia, and 1.7% for Europe and Central Asia. However, there are certain limitations to the study, in taking into account the lowest possible costs of the diet they did not consider the extra cost that would go into production and cooking. Moreover, the calculation doesn’t take into account the “variation in nutritional needs because the EAT-Lancet reference diet and our [researchers’] cost of nutrient adequacy calculation pertain to a typical adult woman … and overlooks differences in bioavailability across food groups”. While transition of diets is necessary for tackling climate change, affordability is and shall always remain a concern.

arjun.mukherjee@expressindia.com

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