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Comparing nutritional, economic, and environmental performances of diets according to their levels of greenhouse gas emissions

Abstract

In response to climate change, reduction of GHGEs (greenhouse gas emissions) from food systems is required. Shifts of agricultural practices and dietary patterns could reduce GHGEs. We aimed to characterize observed diets with different levels of GHGEs and compare their nutritional, economic, and environmental performances. Food consumptions of 34,193 French adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé Cohort were assessed using a food frequency questionnaire. Nutritional, environmental, and economic indicators were computed for each individual diet. Adjusted means of food group intakes, contribution of food groups to dietary GHGEs, nutritional, environmental, and economic indicators were compared between weighted quintiles of GHGEs. Diets with high GHGEs (ranging from 2318 to 4099 kgCO2eq/year) contained more animal-based food and provided more calories. Few differences were found for unhealthy food (alcohol or sweet/fatty food) consumption across the categories of dietary GHGEs. Diets with low GHGEs were characterized by a high nutritional quality. Primary energy consumption and land occupation increased with GHGEs (from Q1: 3978 MJ/year (95%CI = 3958–3997) to Q5: 8980 MJ/year (95%CI = 8924–9036)) and (from Q1: 1693 m2/year (95%CI = 1683–1702) to Q5: 7188 m2/year (95%CI = 7139–7238)), respectively. Finally, participants with lower GHGE related-diets were the highest organic food consumers. After adjustment for sex, age, and energy intake, monetary diet cost increased with GHGEs (from Q1: 6.89€/year (95%CI = 6.84–6.93) to Q5: 7.68€/year (95%CI = 7.62–7.74)). Based on large observational cohort, this study provides new insights concerning the potential of current healthy and emergent diets with low monetary cost and good nutritional quality to promote climate mitigation. However, the question of a large acceptability remains.

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Fig. 1

Abbreviations

AMAPs:

Associations supporting small farming

ANCOVA:

Analysis of covariance

BMI:

Body Mass Index

CI:

Confidence intervals

CU:

Consumption unit

CH4 :

Methane

CO2 :

Carbon dioxide

GHG:

Greenhouse gas

GHGEs:

Greenhouse gas emissions

INSEE:

National Institute of Statistical and Economic Studies

IPAQ:

International Physical Activity Questionnaires

IPCC:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

LCA:

Life Cycle Assessment

mPNNS-GS:

modified Programme National Nutrition Santé Guidelines Score

N2O:

Nitrous oxide

Org-FFQ:

Organic Food Frequency Questionnaire

PANDiet:

Diet Quality Index Based on the Probability of Adequate Nutrient Intake

Q:

Quintile

UK:

United Kingdom

WHO:

World Health Organization

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Acknowledgments

We especially thank Younes Esseddik, Paul Flanzy, Thi Hong Van Duong, Veronique Gourlet, Fabien Szabo, Nathalie Arnault, Laurent Bourhis and Stephen Besseau, Cédric Agaësse, Claudia Chahine, and the Bioconsom’acteurs’ members. We warmly thank all of the dedicated and conscientious volunteers involved in the Nutrinet-Santé Cohort.

Funding

The NutriNet-Santé Study is supported by the French Ministry of Health (DGS), the national public health agency (Santé Publique France), the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CNAM), and the University of Paris 13. This study is supported by the BioNutriNet project which is a research project supported by the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) in the context of the 2013 Programme de Recherche Systèmes Alimentaires Durables (ANR-13-ALID-0001). Louise Seconda is supported by a doctoral fellowship from the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

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Correspondence to Louise Seconda.

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The study was conducted observing the guidelines from the Declaration of Helsinki, and all protocols were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research (IRB INSERM no. 0000388FWA00005831) and the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL no. 908450 and no. 909216). Participant informed consents were signed by all volunteers with an electronic signature. The NutriNet-Santé Study is registered in ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03335644).

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Seconda, L., Baudry, J., Allès, B. et al. Comparing nutritional, economic, and environmental performances of diets according to their levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Climatic Change 148, 155–172 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2195-1

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Dietary pattern
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Organic food