Junk food not only affects people’s health but is also destroying the planet, especially if it’s eaten by men, as their food consumption contributes 40% more greenhouse gasses than women.
A recent study from the University of Leeds in the UK found that junk food and alcoholic or energizing beverages –including candies, biscuits, tea, coffee, or cakes– accounted for more than 23% of all diet-related greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the study, meat and dairy products contributed another 46% of all emissions caused by food consumption, showing that non-vegetarian diets produced 59% more greenhouse gases than vegetarian diets.
Experts said the research exposed a surprising gender balance, as men were responsible for 41% more food-related emissions than women.
The results could be attributed to men having higher rates of meat and alcohol consumption, researchers stated, adding that greenhouse gas emissions’ high level could result from those agriculture and manufacturing methods employed to produce “processed” beverages and foods.
Barbara Burlingame, a nutrition and food systems professor at Massey University’s School of Public Health, said the study showed that diversification in diet and biodiversity was the most beneficial alternative for both human beings and the environment.
Many people would be surprised to learn that tea and coffee could be so destructive, but bean and leaf plantations were only a bit different from processing systems for sugar or wheat going into sweet food, she commented.
“You have to destroy whole ecosystems so you get that intensification,” Burlingame said. “So, you destroy the land use, the water use, the pollinators – everything.”
But the study showed that small individual changes could have a significant impact, said its lead author Holly Rippin.
She said that even though the world needed a big cultural transformation, small changes can also produce big benefits. “You can live a more environmentally sustainable life by just cutting out sweets and drinking less coffee,” Rippin added.
Burlingame also encouraged consumers to lean toward sustainable diets rather than healthy diets in order to do the best for themselves and the planet. A healthy diet is not necessarily related to sustainability, and a product labeled as “healthy” can be unhealthy for the environment, she explained.