Article Text

Impact of a reduced red and processed meat dietary pattern on disease risks and greenhouse gas emissions in the UK: a modelling study
  1. Louise M Aston,
  2. James N Smith,
  3. John W Powles
  1. Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Louise M Aston; louise.aston{at}


Objectives Consumption of red and processed meat (RPM) is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and high intakes of these foods increase the risks of several leading chronic diseases. The aim of this study was to use newly derived estimates of habitual meat intakes in UK adults to assess potential co-benefits to health and the environment from reduced RPM consumption.

Design Modelling study using dietary intake data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of British Adults.

Setting British general population.

Methods Respondents were divided into fifths by energy-adjusted RPM intakes, with vegetarians constituting a sixth stratum. GHG emitted in supplying the diets of each stratum was estimated using data from life-cycle analyses. A feasible counterfactual UK population was specified, in which the proportion of vegetarians measured in the survey population doubled, and the remainder adopted the dietary pattern of the lowest fifth of RPM consumers.

Outcome measures Reductions in risks of coronary heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer, and GHG emissions, under the counterfactual.

Results Habitual RPM intakes were 2.5 times higher in the top compared with the bottom fifth of consumers. Under the counterfactual, statistically significant reductions in population aggregate risks ranged from 3.2% (95% CI 1.9 to 4.7) for diabetes in women to 12.2% (6.4 to 18.0) for colorectal cancer in men, with those moving from the highest to lowest consumption levels gaining about twice these averages. The expected reduction in GHG emissions was 0.45 tonnes CO2 equivalent/person/year, about 3% of the current total, giving a reduction across the UK population of 27.8 million tonnes/year.

Conclusions Reduced consumption of RPM would bring multiple benefits to health and environment.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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Supplementary materials

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  • To cite: Aston LM, Smith JN, Powles JW. Impact of a reduced red and processed meat dietary pattern on disease risks and greenhouse gas emissions in the UK: a modelling study. BMJ Open 2012;2:e001072. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001072

  • Contributors All authors contributed to conception and design of the study. Data analysis and interpretation were performed by LMA and JP. All authors contributed to manuscript preparation and have approved the submitted manuscript.

  • Funding Work contributing to this manuscript was carried out as part of the University of Cambridge MPhil in Public Health degree (LMA and JNS, supervised by JWP); degrees were funded by the NHS East of England Multi-Professional Deanery.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This research used the publicly available NDNS data set. GHG emissions were estimated from various published sources and are listed in the web appendix.