Reducing Meat and Dairy a ‘Win-Win’ for the Climate and Your Waistline
Consumption of meat and dairy products in many countries has risen beyond healthy levels, the report says and emissions from rearing livestock mean growing meat demand will make it harder to keep global temperature rise below 2C.
Political leaders are “afraid of telling people what to eat,” says the authors, but the findings suggest the public may be less averse to changing their diets than governments fear.
As you can see in the chart below, consumption of meat and dairy products generally increases as a country’s national income rises. While this growth flattens off as earnings climb further, meat eating in many developed countries has plateaued at excessive levels, the report says.
The dotted line shows a healthy level of meat in our diets. On average, in Europe we eat around twice as much as we should, while in the U.S. it’s three times.
This is bad for our waistlines and the climate, the report says.
Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change, says lead author Laura Wellesley, a research associate at Chatham House. She told a press conference, "Globally, the livestock sector accounts for 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions—that’s equivalent to all exhaust emissions from every vehicle on the planet."
Rearing livestock produces emissions directly from animals, from digestion and manure and from transporting animals and producing their feed. Greenhouse gases are also released when forests are cleared to make way for pasture or for cropland in order to grow animal feed.
Global demand for meat is expected to increase by 76 percent by the middle of this century as both population and incomes rise, Wellesley says, which means emissions are set to rise as well.
Research last year by Chatham House found that without keeping a lid on rising meat and dairy consumption, keeping global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels was “off the table.” The new report asks how to go about bringing global diets in line with climate emissions targets.
Cycle of Inertia
The issue of how to address meat and dairy consumption has been “trapped in a cycle of inertia,” the report says. Governments have shied away from promoting sustainable diets in fear of a backlash from the public and food industry, while the lack of action means public awareness of the climate impact of meat and dairy is low.
The researchers conducted discussion groups with members of the public in Brazil, China, the U.S. and the UK to explore attitudes to meat and dairy consumption.
The results showed that the public wanted guidance from the government on how much meat they should eat, with participants of the focus groups saying they were unlikely to change their eating habits without it. The report concludes, "Government inaction signals to [the general public] that the issue is unimportant or undeserving of concern."
The findings also suggest that the public may be less reluctant to being asked to cut their meat intake than governments fear. Wellesley explains, "The assumption that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too practically difficult to implement is unjustified. Our focus groups pointed to a public that expect governments to lead, that expect governments to take action on issues that are in the public interest."
This action could include “nudges” towards more sustainable food choices by improving awareness, food labeling and availability of alternative options. But the most effective method of changing eating behavior is likely to be taxation, the findings suggest.
The Chatham House report doesn’t look into possible tax levels, but research published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 found that taxing the carbon emissions from beef production at £2.72 (USD$4.10) per ton of CO2eq for every 100g of beef would result in a £1.76 (USD$2.65) increase per kilo. This in turn could lead to a 14 percent reduction in consumption.
Although there would be some initial opposition to adding taxes to meat and dairy, public acceptance would come in the long-term, Wellesley says, "Our research also indicates that any backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived."
The public is more likely to accept a tax if they can see the revenues are being redistributed towards other foods, the researchers add.
An Opportunity, Not an Impossibility
So, how much of a difference to global emissions could healthier diets make? Wellesley explains, "A global shift to healthy diets, which for most would mean a reduction of meat consumption—a significant reduction in meat consumption—could bring a quarter of the emissions reductions needed [by 2050] to bring us back online for the 2C target."
You can see this in the chart from the report below. The dark blue line is the future emissions path based on the existing national pledges for cutting greenhouse gases emissions, while the pale blue line shows the reduction if the world shifted to the healthy levels of meat and dairy consumption. The grey line shows the path necessary for 2C.
But you needn’t rush out to stock up on sausages before they disappear from supermarket shelves, says Wellesley, "We’re not in any way advising or advocating for global vegetarianism. It doesn’t need that. You can see a massive change and huge emissions reductions from just converging around healthy levels and moderating our intake."
For example, a study published in Nature Climate Change last year suggested that a global diet of no more than 24g of red meat a day and no more than 85g of chicken, would save six billion tons of CO2e by 2050. For reference, the beef burger in a standard McDonalds hamburger weighs in at 33g.
Cutting back on meat and dairy has a dual benefit of improving global health as well as helping to limit climate change. This makes a “compelling case” for governments to encourage the public to shift their diets, Wellesley concludes, "The key message here is that governments should see dietary change not as impossibility, but as an opportunity."
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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