After developing the Planetary Health Diet Index, which measures the population’s adherence to foods with less environmental impact, researchers from USP’s FSP (Faculty of Public Health) evaluated the effect of these sustainable diets on the population’s health, more specifically on body fat .
Participants who scored higher on the index, and therefore more adhered to healthy diets across the planet, had a 24% lower risk of being overweight and obese.
The survey also showed that the ‘champions’ in the index also have 14% less risk of having abdominal obesity and 27% less risk of having the aggravated picture of this condition, increased abdominal obesity. The study shows that a diet based more on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and oilseeds – and less on red meat, dairy products, tubers, added sugars and animal fats – can be as healthy for the planet as it is for our bodies.
The study is part of the sandwich doctorate of researcher Leandro Cacau, from FSP, under the supervision of Professor Dirce Maria Lobo Marchioni, at the University of Zaragoza, in Spain, under the supervision of Luis Moreno. The article was published in October in the scientific journal Nutrients. The project is supported by FAPESP (Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo).
The index developed by the researchers is based on the Planetary Health Diet, a dietary model proposed in the report. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, published in the scientific journal The Lancet.
The idea of ??this diet is to promote a sustainable and conscious use of the planet’s resources to ensure nutrition and health for the estimated 10 billion people in 2050 – which will not happen without radical changes in our current consumption pattern.
By dividing foods into 16 groups and relating them to the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) generated in the production of each one of them, the index is able to evaluate the diets through a score from 0 to 150.
In general, the more vegetables you consume, the closer you get to 150 points; while the more you choose animal-derived and ultra-processed foods, the closer the diet comes to zero – and, therefore, the greater the environmental cost of meals.
The EAT- Lancet recommendation, as well as the first application of the index, suggested that the less harmful to the planet, the greater the nutritional quality of the diet, but this is the first study to assess what actually happens to human health if we also opt for healthy diets for the planet.
“The results are in line with the report: following a healthy and sustainable diet brings benefits to the health of the population, as overweight and obesity are important risk factors for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases”, says Leandro Cacau in interview with Jornal da USP.
A total of 14,515 Brazilians participated in the Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil), which has followed volunteers from several states in Brazil since 2008 and 2010.
According to the researcher, the results show that those who scored better on the index had better health in terms of body fat, when compared to those who did not follow the Planetary Health Diet.
“They were 24% less likely to be overweight and obese. This regardless of sociodemographic characteristics, lifestyle and health status, such as gender, age, education, smoking, physical activity, presence of diabetes and hypertension, among others”, he completes.
The researchers also found that those who scored worst on the index had the highest values ??for BMI (Body Mass Index) and waist circumference. The next step in the research is to assess the relationship of this tool with cardiovascular disease markers.