Millions of lives could be saved annually by the year 2050 if people adopt vegetarian diets, a new study has found.
Cutting down on meat consumption worldwide would also protect the planet by cutting emissions by two thirds, and avoid over $1trillion in costs linked to climate change and healthcare, according to research published in by Oxford University.
Dr Marco Springmann, lead author of the study conducted at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, highlighted that a person’s diet “greatly influences” their health and the global environment.
“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions,” he said.
“At the same time the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”
To make their findings published in the journal ‘Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences’, the team predicted how four different dietary scenarios would impact the planet and people's health.
These involved the global population: continuing on the current trajectory; adopting diets including the minimum recommending levels of vegetables and fruit; limiting the intake of red meat, sugar and total calories; and adopting vegetarian and vegan diets which comply with health guidelines.
Researchers found that leading a vegan lifestyle would save 8.1million lives by 2050, while vegetarianism could save 7.3million. And simply following the minimum global dietary guidelines could save 5.1million deaths.
Celebrity vegan and vegetarians
Celebrity vegan and vegetarians
1/24 Ariana Grande, pop star
"I love animals more than I love most people, not kidding. But I am a firm believer in eating a full plant-based, whole food diet that can expand your life length and make you an all-round happier person."
2/24 Paul McCartney, musician
"I've been a vegetarian for a long time now and over the years I've seen how the attitudes have changed around the world, so I'm not surprised when I see new research that shows more and more people are increasingly adopting 'meat free eating'."
3/24 Ellen DeGeneres, TV Host
"It doesn't make [Thanksgiving] harder at all. It makes it easier on the turkeys, too. They get to live."
4/24 Morrissey, musician
"I see no difference between eating animals and paedophilia."
5/24 Bill Clinton, former president of the US
Dr Dean Ornish, Clinton's doctor, said: "I asked him, 'Why do you want to live longer?' and he said, 'I want to live long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle and to see my grandkids born and grow up.'"
6/24 Peter Dinklage, actor
Dinklage has been a vegetarian since childhood and featured in PETA's 'Face Your Food' film.
7/24 Russell Brand, comedian
"I'm now vegan, goodbye eggs, hello Ellen."
8/24 Ellie Goulding, singer
"I've got taxidermy, I've got animals.... deer and all sorts. But weirdly, I'm a vegetarian and I don't eat meat. I'm a walking contradiction."
9/24 Ellen Page, actor
Page was named as one of PETA's 'Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrities' in 2014.
10/24 Al Gore, American politician
"There are 10 vegan restaurants in Nashville now." Speaking about how he maintains his vegan diet in the city.
11/24 Tobey Maguire, actor
Maguire said he was a vegan and "stopped consuming any mind-altering substances" when he was 19.
12/24 Stella McCartney
On her website, McCartney said that "the decision not to use leather or fur is not just because I don’t eat animals or that I think that millions of animals each year shouldn’t be killed for the sake of fashion. It’s because I also believe in the connection between fur and leather and the environment. There’s a huge connection."
13/24 Woody Harrelson, actor
"I've always been relatively healthy except for my vices."
14/24 Jared Leto, actor and musician
"I'm pretty healthy... I've been that way for a long time - 20 solid years of eating vegetarian/vegan and taking care of myself. That probably helps the preservation process."
15/24 Jessica Chastain, actor
It was reported that the vegan actor bought her mother a vegan food truck.
AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jonathan Olley
16/24 Joaquin Phoenix, actor
Featuring a PETA advert to promote vegetarianism for Thanksgiving, he said: "Holidays can be murder on turkeys. Let's make this one for the birds."
17/24 Beyonce and Jay-Z
Beyonce announced her vegan diet in a heavily-promoted segment for Good Morning American in June 2015.
18/24 Kate Mara, actor
Mara told E! Online that she stayed fit and healthy by being a vegan.
19/24 Alanis Morissette, musician
"I'm predominantly vegan, which my friends hate because it's not monogamous; 80% is vegan; the other 20% is following what my body needs."
20/24 Alicia Silverstone, actor
Silverston has a blog called The Kind Life which discusses vegan and vegetarian food.
21/24 Kate Nash
"I became a vegetarian last September - I used to suffer from OCD and it got stuck in my head that if I didn't eat meat then my bunny rabbit, Fluffy, would survive a dangerous operation she had to have."
22/24 Jennifer Lopez, singer and actor
Lopez said that she recommended a vegan diet "because you wake up and feel great".
23/24 Mark Hoppus, member of Blink 182
Hoppus announced he was a vegan on Twitter.
24/24 Olivia Wilde, actor
"[Being vegan] is not always easy and accessible. But it's a way of life and makes me as a person feel really good and physically look better."
Cutting down red meat alone accounted for half of the avoided deaths, while the other half was down due to a reduction in obesity linked to a rise in fruit and vegetable intake and cut in calories eaten.
The study also highlighted the grave impact that food has on global warming.
Currently, greenhouse gas emissions linked to food make up half of the pollution that the planet can afford to maintain if global warming its to be kept below 2°C.
But 70 per cent of food-related emissions would be cut if people adopted a vegan diet, dropping to 63 per cent with a vegetarian diet. Meanwhile, following global dietary guidelines would be cut emissions by 29 per cent.
When economic benefits were assessed, researchers found that changing how we currently eat would save between $700 to $1,000billion each year in healthcare, unpaid informal care and lost working days worldwide.
Researchers believe that the study is the first to estimate how plant-based diets affect worldwide health and climate change.
"Putting a dollar value on good health and the environment is a sensitive issue," said Dr Springmann.
"Yet, our results indicate that dietary changes could have large benefits to society, and the value of those benefits makes a strong case for increased public and private spending on programmes aimed to achieve healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets."
Nicolas Hewitt, Distinguished Professor at Lancaster University Environment Centre, said that the study confirms what his research and that of others has already shown.
"Consumer choices around food have significant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating meat from the diet can reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by about 35 per cent and changing from carbon-intensive beef and lamb to less carbon-intensive pork and chicken can reduce food-related carbon emissions by about 18 per cent.
"Overall, changing to a vegan diet can reduce food-related emissions by about a quarter, which in the UK represents about 40 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions every year. This is equivalent to about half of the total CO2 emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet."
"If society is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then we should be trying to make savings in every area of our day-to-day activities, including in our diet."Reuse content