A scientifically “ideal” diet designed for maximum nutrition and environmental sustainability would be unaffordable for over 20 percent of the world’s population, a new study found.
Published in the Lancet journal in January, the specially tailored “planetary diet” was created with not only health but the environment in mind, looking to feed a population of 10 billion by 2050 while reducing diet-related disease and ecological damage. The meal plan called on the world’s eaters to double their consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts, while largely doing away with the meats and sugars that now dominate the Western diet.
However, the special diet would cost an average of $2.84 per day for each individual, according to a new Lancet Global Health study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. That accounts for nearly 90 percent of the daily per capita budget for those living in many poorer countries, making the diet too expensive for at least 1.6 billion people, most located in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The true number of people unable to afford the diet may be even greater than the Lancet study suggests if other expenses are considered in addition to food.
“The actual number must be higher, since people need to spend at least some money on other things such as housing and clothing, as well as education, healthcare and transportation,” Will Masters, a senior author of the study, told Reuters.
After signaling some approval for the meal plan, the World Health Organization abruptly reversed course earlier this year on the heels of criticism from Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Italy’s representative to international organizations in Geneva. Cornado warned the diet would bring serious economic disruptions, wipe out traditional dishes and cultural heritage, and said the plan risked “the total elimination of consumers’ freedom of choice.”
Given its cost, the “planetary diet” is an unlikely end-all be-all for the problems surrounding the world’s food supply, but the issues it sought to address are far from trivial. The recent Lancet study noted that more than 2.5 billion people suffer some form of malnutrition worldwide, with another 2 billion overweight or obese, adding that current food production methods also “pose risks to the health of the planet.”
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