UK health professionals call for a healthier food system in new food, climate and health paper
Two-thirds of health professionals agree that changing your diet in a way that reduces its environmental impact can also improve your health, as the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change publishes its recommendations for change.
Wednesday 4th November 2020
Today the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) has published a suite of recommendations designed to reduce the UK’s food-related greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of climate change on the health of the British public. UKHACC’s recommendations are published in the paper: ‘All-consuming: building a healthier food system for people and planet’.
Over a quarter of total global emissions
Most activity to mitigate climate change has focused on decarbonising energy and transport, but it is now widely recognised that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is a transformation in the way the world produces and consumes food, which makes up over a quarter (26%) of total global greenhouse gas emissions.1
However, the Lancet has called climate change “the greatest global health threat and opportunity of the 21st century”,2 and diet is one key area in which changes can be made that simultaneously benefit the health of people and the planet.
A new YouGov survey commissioned by the Alliance shows high levels of concern amongst UK health professionals about the impact of food on the climate, and support for the health benefits of more environmentally friendly diets.3 Of those surveyed:
- Two-thirds (68%) are concerned about the impacts of society’s approach to food production and consumption on the environment/climate.
- Two-thirds (67%) agree that changing your diet in a way that reduces its environmental impact (e.g. by eating less meat) can also improve your health.
- 40% have already changed their diet/eating habits due to environmental concerns.
It will be necessary for individuals and organisations to change their behaviour to reduce food’s contribution to the climate emergency, and the NHS in England has recently set a target to become carbon neutral by 2040.4 However, UKHACC believes that the Government must do more to encourage, enable and support these changes.
The Alliance’s recommendations include:
- Advice & Information – Existing public information campaigns on diet should include climate messages, and health professionals & patients should be supported with clear, accessible information on transitioning to a climate-friendly diet.
- Food Labelling – Commission independent research into the most effective form of environmental labelling to implement to support consumers to make sustainable choices.
- Public Procurement – Amend public procurement rules to require all procured food to meet minimum environmental standards – using purchasing power to shift the market.
- Food Policy After Brexit – New trade agreements must include a clause requiring imports to meet UK environmental standards.
‘All-Consuming’, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s policy paper will be launched in a webinar at 11.00 on Wednesday 4 November, which will feature guest speakers including Henry Dimbleby, the independent lead of the National Food Strategy, founder of Leon and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, as well as representatives from the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of General Practitioners.
“Good for the planet and good for our health”
Henry Dimbleby, Independent Lead of the National Food Strategy, said:
“COVID-19, painful though it is, could pale into insignificance compared to the turbulence created by climate change and the collapse in biodiversity. Healthcare professionals have an important role in shaping our diets and I am very pleased to see their recommendations cover not only our health, but that of our planet too – and that they consider the broader influences on our food system
Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said:
“I am the first to admit that I enjoy a steak every now and then, but it’s clear that if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming we must start to reconsider our attitudes to food – which accounts for a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions.
“The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s survey shows that a majority of health professionals agree, and it’s hugely encouraging that 40% have already taken action by changing their eating habits. We each have a responsibility and an ability to make a difference as individuals, and making changes like reducing our meat consumption is not only good for the planet, but can also be good for our health.”
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, Ambassador of the Alliance, said:
“Most activity to limit climate change has focused on decarbonising energy and transportation. This is very important, but we mustn’t overlook the potential to mitigate the dangerous health effects of climate change by rethinking our approach to food. To achieve this, as the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change recommends, health professionals must be supported to share, and direct their patients to, clear and accessible advice on transitioning to a more climate-friendly diet.”
- Poore & Nemecek (2018) Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers & consumers. Science 360(6392).
- Watts et al., 2015. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet.
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,001 healthcare professionals. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th – 23rd August 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of healthcare professionals in the UK, and includes nurses, doctors and ‘allied health professionals.
- Delivering a net-zero NHS, 2020. NHS England and NHS Improvement.