Eat Lancet’s model diet is inaccessible to 1.58 billion people

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The diet that feeds people and protects the planet as defined by the Eat Lancet Commission is inaccessible to 1.58 billion people worldwide because it is too expensive. So says a study published in Lancet, which analyzes the relationship between the price of the healthy food basket and per capita income in 159 countries. (1)

The Eat Lancet Diet.

The global diet developed in January 2019 by the Lancet’s Eat Commission is a landmark nutritional scheme capable of protecting the health of the 7.7 billion individuals populating the planet while protecting the environment. It is rich in fruits and vegetables, with mostly plant-based proteins and fats, unsaturated oils from fish and whole grains, meat and eggs, and low sugar. (2)

The nutrition scheme pursues the dual goal that should animate global nutrition policies. Mitigating the epidemic of obesity and malnutrition – the so-called.
Global Syndemic
– and environmental crisis. On the first front, more than 2.5 billion people currently suffer from some form of malnutrition.

Agricultural efficiency and less waste

Current food production methods also pose risks to the health of the planet. The agricultural sector still accounts for a major cause of freshwater pollution, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity. Due to agrotoxic abuses as well as advancing deforestation. (3)

Thus, the solution is to optimize agricultural production under the banner of sustainability and reduce food waste. With a view to adequately feeding a global population estimated to reach 10 billion individuals in 2050. The real problem, however, is making the model affordable for everyone. As has already been seen with the Mediterranean diet, the Lancet diet is in fact too expensive for much of the global population.

Eating well costs too much

Surveying the prices of foods included in the Eat Lancet basket, the researchers estimated the average daily cost of a healthy and sustainable diet at US$2.84. Far too much for 1.58 billion people, 80 percent of whom (1.26 billion) live in Low-Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

The cost of the ideal diet even exceeds the average daily income per capita for 57.2 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and 38.4 percent of the population in South Asia. From Burkina Faso to Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Yemen (where war ignored by the media continues to exterminate children).

Our study showed that the EAT- Lancet diets are not affordable for much of the world’s low-income population. In the 26 countries (0.50 billion people) classified by the World Bank as low-income, the least expensive foods available to meet EAT – Lancet nutrition goals would require 89.1 percent of per capita household income. In the 47 countries (2.97 billion people) classified as low- and middle-income, this diet would cost 52.4 percent of average household income per capita‘, the researchers write.

The expensive-protein

The most expensive foods are fruits and vegetables and protein sources of animal origin. On the composition of the total cost of the Eat Lancet basket, in fact, fruits and vegetables account for almost one-third (31.2 percent). This is followed by legumes and nuts (18.7 percent), meat, eggs and fish (15.2 percent) and dairy products (13.2 percent).

Animal protein (dairy products, as well as meat, eggs and fish) is particularly expensive in low-income countries. They account for nearly one-third (32.8 percent) of spending, mainly penalizing child nutrition.

Marketing and diverted consumption

The economic inaccessibility of the healthy diet in poor countries is compounded by malnutrition in middle- and high-income countries. Harmful eating habits, brought about by poor knowledge of the nutritional value of food and aggressive marketing of junk food at low prices, are rampant here.

Poor quality diets are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the world today, due to both inadequate consumption of nutritious foods and consumption of harmful foods,’ the researchers point out.

Notes

(1) Kalle Hirvonen, Yan Bai, Derek Headey, William A Masters. Affordability of the EAT-Lancet reference diet: a global analysis. Lancet, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30447-4

(2) Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. 2019; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4

(3) Climate Change and Land: an IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva 2019 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/184e/09a5cc9d30b366500705192449c72db413f0.pdf

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".