Researchers compared dietary data from meat-eaters, meat-reducers and vegetarians to show that the less meat you eat, the smaller your impact on the environment – and the longer you live.
Their study shows that meat-free or meat-light diets generate a third fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions than meat-heavy ones.
In addition the mortality rate for meat-eaters was found to be about 20 per cent higher than that of vegetarians and semi-vegetarians.
Study co-author Sam Saret, associate dean of LLU School of Public Health, said the scale of the research and the fact it was based on data from living people, rather than simulated figures, made the findings “unprecedented”.
The study looked at data from more than 73,000 participants in the university’s own large-scale Adventist Health Study. Seventh-day Adventists are known for their clean-living, meat-reducing lifestyles; an estimated 35 per cent are wholly meat-free, according to 2002 research.
“The takeaway message [of the study],” said Saret, “is that relatively small reductions in the consumption of animal products result in non-trivial environmental benefits and health benefits.”
Fellow co-author Joan Sabate, a professor of nutrition, said that global issues including population growth, dwindling resources and a changing climate made it vital that we reassess how we feed ourselves.
“Throughout history, forced either by necessity or choice, large segments of the world’s population have thrived on plant-based diets,” she said.
The findings are published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, having been presented at the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition last year.