Environmental and human health trade-offs in potential Chinese dietary shifts

Yixin Guo, Pan He, Tim D. Searchinger, Youfan Chen, Marco Springmann, Mi Zhou, Xin Zhang, Lin Zhang, Denise L. Mauzerall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Dietary shifts from staples toward meats, fruits, and vegetables increase environmental impacts. Excessive red meat intake and micro-nutrient deficiencies also raise health concerns. Previous research examined environmental and health consequences of alternative diets but overlooked impacts on air pollution and land use change. Here we examine implications of four potential Chinese dietary shifts on ammonia and particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon storage loss associated with land-use change, water use, and human health. We show that a diet that replaces red meat with soy benefits the environment and avoids 57,000 PM2.5-related premature deaths annually. Dietary health benefits, however, appear larger with adoption of the Chinese Dietary Guideline (CDG) and EAT-Lancet diets, which prevent over one million premature deaths annually. However, both diets increase water use and GHGs. CDG also increases land use change, but EAT-Lancet reduces it by cutting dairy and red meat. Complex benefits and trade-offs of dietary shifts emphasize the need for further improvements in agricultural management to enable larger health-environment co-benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-282
Number of pages15
JournalOne Earth
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 18 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • PM air pollution
  • agriculture
  • ammonia emissions
  • climate
  • dietary health
  • diets
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • land use opportunity costs
  • sustainable food systems
  • water use


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