Getting people to change their behavior is difficult, just ask any scientist who works on climate change. Similar challenges apply to any dietitian. This week, an international group of researchers published an article proposing a radical new diet, as part of a health and food-led symposium The lancet.
In the report, they say that this diet could feed the growing world population (estimates estimate that the world population is ten billion by 2050), as well as change agricultural practices and prevent the Earth from slipping into further environmental devastation. . One of the main challenges that this diet hopes to address is the role of livestock to contribute to climate change.
In November, the world's science academies issued a report stating that the global food system is fundamentally damaged, and that improving it would require major changes in the way we produce, consume and transport food. However, even though the diet itself proposes great changes, the underlying reasoning is similar to what scientists have been saying for years.
It requires reducing unhealthy foods, such as red meat, and increasing the intake of grains and vegetables. A detailed breakdown can be found in the Lancet report itself. Broadly speaking, you should aim to consume 2,500 kcal per day, which is based on the general orientation of how much an adult should eat now. The crux of the diet would imply a greater reliance on beans, legumes and lentils to obtain protein; This would form approximately 75 g of your daily food intake. You should reduce the consumption of meat to a maximum of 14 grams of red meat and 29 g of chicken per day, and aim to have around 500 g of fruits and vegetables.
For some, these diets are not necessarily unusual; For example, vegans no longer eat dairy products and rely heavily on vegetables and other types of complex carbohydrates for most of their food supply. But to encourage widespread adoption of these changes in diet, there should be an incentive: previous research has shown that changing health-related behavior is notoriously difficult. For example, in North America, meat is considered a daily food, and in parts of Europe, dairy products are integrated into local cuisine, from cheese to milk and yogurt (in this diet, a glbad of milk would be the recommended daily intake).
"People are slightly influenced by conscious decision-making, like putting a sustainable label on a food item, but actually we now know it does not tend to work," says Brian Power, who researches nutrition and behavior change in the UCL. "The other approach, more effective, is to try to affect unconscious decision making, which increases the signals in the environment and makes the change more socially acceptable."
A successful example is most likely the five-day campaign, which was presented 15 years ago. This campaign was introduced by the government to change people's diets, particularly for young people. But simply knowing that something is better for us is often not enough to increase the acceptability of certain practices, for example, cutting meat, or not giving us the right incentives to make a change. In fact, information about how bad our agricultural practices are for the planet, for example, or the impact of climate change on our local environment, much of this information is widely publicized and easy to find.
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For a long time, public health campaigns and government intervention have tried to use changes in packaging, such as adding emissions or miles traveled by an item, so that individual consumers consider what they are buying more carefully. But the evidence that this has really worked is limited. "Actually, the interventions that tend to be the most popular also tend to be the least effective," says Power. "We have found that public health campaigns are really bad at communicating risks to people."
Often, this is due to two reasons: one is that it is difficult to say with total certainty how the consumption of meat, or dairy products, or eggs, or even beans and lentils, affects our planet because the figures vary according to different estimates . The other reason is one of the motivations: although we know that climate change is bad and that we must all do more to stop it, it is much more difficult to achieve a change so that our life is greener. Even if you make the switch to a different type of milk, or start riding a bicycle to work, it can be difficult to maintain habits for a longer period of time, especially if they require more effort or are more expensive.
Effort and expenses are often identified as the main reasons why people do not switch to healthier diets, either because it is too difficult or simply not worth the money they have before their eyes. So what should be done to make people take it seriously?
"We must emphasize the positive consequences of change," says Tali Sharot, professor of experimental psychology at UCL. "Instead of saying, you will be unhealthy and will be harmful to the environment if you eat these specific types of food, you have to say, well, for you as a person, you will live longer, you will have more energy, it looks better – if you do these things" .
In addition, the social elements of what is acceptable and what can not provide the impetus for people to change their lifestyles in a way that they otherwise could not. The increase in vegan and vegetarian diets around the world has had a knock-on effect, especially if it is shown that celebrities or people who are widely respected are adopting such diets. "You can create social incentives at different levels," says Sharot. "It's easier if governments intervene, but social acceptability can play an important role in it."
However, a major obstacle is that the problem is global. Individual governments, or even large corporations, will not be able to cause a generalized change in diet in the way that scientists are encouraging. "Changing the food supply chain will have the most significant transformation effect," says Power. "This is not going to work with health and science professionals who work in a silo. We need to reduce the demand of people for a product. "
One way to do this would be to impose taxes on food products that, in general, are unhealthy. While suggestions for taxing meat have been unpopular with the public and politicians, there is widespread evidence to suggest that it works, in terms of changing agricultural practices to make them more sustainable, as well as to reduce meat consumption. tax, this would be similar to the tax that has been placed on sugary drinks. In recent years, as the impact of the livestock industry on the global climate has become increasingly publicized, researchers have begun to suggest that a tax on meat is inevitable.
Christopher Gardner, a nutrition researcher at Stanford University, says linking the various aspects of sustainable practices to different parts of people's lives could also cause a change in behavior. This means using discussions on best labor practices or animal rights to motivate people to make better decisions about nutrition, even if climate change is not at the top of their agenda, other issues could be. In the long term, that could provide the impetus for people to adhere to the dietary choices they have made.
However, scientific literature has established that people often eat unhealthy because it can be difficult to access healthy foods, and do so without a significant amount of expenses.
"We have found time and again that availability and accessibility in the environment is what helps people change immediately," says Power. This would require that environmentally friendly foods be accessible to low-income communities, and implement nutrition plans in schools that can be prepared fresh and affordable. " But this requires a convergence of other factors, such as market dynamics, supermarkets that take corporate social responsibility seriously. All this will have to come from the government and from the political leaders.
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