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J Environ Manage. 2019 Jun 15;240:518-526. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.03.106. Epub 2019 Apr 15.

Environmental impacts of dietary quality improvement in China.

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Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100048, China.
Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 20742, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 20742, USA.
Center for Energy and Environmental Sciences (IVEM), Energy and Sustainability Research Institute Groningen (ESRIG), University of Groningen, Groningen, 9747 AG, the Netherlands; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Schlossplatz 1 - A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria.
Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084, China.


Dietary-related risks rank top among all the health risks in many countries. The 2nd United Nations Sustainable Development Goal aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Yet whether improving nutritional quality also benefits the environment is still under-explored, particularly for developing countries. China is an interesting and important case because of its rapidly changing dietary patterns distinct from the western countries studied in the literature, sub-national level heterogeneity, socio-economic characteristics and lifestyles, as well as its considerable population. This paper evaluates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water consumption, and land appropriation resulting from shifting the Chinese population to healthy diets. We quantify the environmental impacts of individual diets using the latest available data of China Health and Nutrition Survey (2011), and compare them with the environmental impacts of suggested healthy dietary patterns in accordance with the 2016 Chinese Dietary Guidelines. If all Chinese would follow healthy diets rather than their current diets revealed in the survey, GHG emissions, water consumption, and land occupation would increase by 7.5% (63.9 Mt CO2e annually), 53.5% (510 billion m3), and 54.2% (1256 billion m2), respectively. Urban and high-income groups have higher diet-related environmental impacts but could achieve less additional environmental impacts when moving to healthier diets. These findings indicate an expense of increased GHG emissions, and consumption of water and land resources in improving health. They also highlight the need to focus on the effects of improved economic conditions and urbanization in reconciling environmental impacts and human nutritional adequacy.


China; Diet change; Land; Malnutrition; Water; greenhouse gases

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