Sustainable diets could become more affordable in low-income countries by 2050, reveals new Lancet study

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland

Diets encompassing legumes and whole grains will be the most affordable for most middle-income and some low-income countries by 2050 if the right health and environmental development policies are in place according to a study published by The Lancet Planetary Health.

Healthier, more sustainable diets are predicted to be approximately 25-29% cheaper in low-income and lower-middle income countries and 37% cheaper by 2050 on average, factoring in upper-middle-income to high-income countries.

The study notes however that healthy and sustainable diets will only become less expensive for low-income countries if these countries see significant reduction in food waste, valuable socioeconomic developments, and better cost-accounting which includes diet-related costs of climate change and health care in the cost of diets.

Vegetarian and vegan diets with a focus on wholegrains and legumes tended to come out as the most affordable in this analysis, while pescatarian diets which included fruit, vegetables and fish, were the most expensive.

Fish was revealed to have the highest price per calorie in the study. Vegetables and most animal-based goods also tended to be more expensive than grains and plant-based sources of protein.

To ensure that healthy and sustainable diets become affordable and cheap in the future in low-income countries, several measures need to be in place such as new policy that deals with consumers and food and agricultural motives.

To estimate the cost of healthy and sustainable food in the future, this study was built using regionally comparable food price data for 150 countries from the International Comparison Program. The researchers used the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) estimated data of the amount of food is available for consumption in a country, and they adjusted these estimates for food wasted during consumption. They also looked at the difference between edible and inedible parts using region-specific and commodity-specific estimates.

Researchers put these prices together with food demand estimates for different diets that had been proven to increase life expectancy and be associated with environmental resource demands. These diets included flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan diets.

Looking at estimates of food waste, food demand, and prices, the study predicts what food systems and socioeconomic change could look like by 2050.

The full cost-accounting method used in this study involved analysing the comparative risk assessment of dietary risks with cost-of-illness estimates to predict diet-related health-care costs, as well as predicting climate change costs by analysing diet scenarios alongside greenhouse gas emission footprints and estimates of carbon’s social cost.

According to the researchers, diet-related health-care costs and diet-related effects on climate change are not regularly included in the existing literature on diet and food costs.

This new study offers an advance on earlier studies which suggested healthier and more sustainable diets to be more expensive for lower-income countries.

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