Projected health effects of realistic dietary changes to address freshwater constraints in India: a modelling study

Elsevier, Lancet Planetary Health, April 2017
Authors: 
Dr James Milner, Edward J M Joy, Rosemary Green, Francesca Harris, Lukasz Aleksandrowicz, Sutapa Agrawal, Pete Smith, Andy Haines, FMedSci, Alan D Dangour

Background

The availability of freshwater for irrigation in the Indian agricultural sector is expected to decline over the coming decades. This might have implications for food production in India, with subsequent effects on diets and health. We identify realistic and healthy dietary changes that could enhance the resilience of the Indian food system to future decreases in water availability.

Methods

In this modelling study, we optimised typical dietary patterns in an Indian population sample to meet projected decreases in the availability of water per person for irrigation (blue water footprint) due to population growth (to 2025 and 2050). The optimised diets met nutritional guidelines and minimised deviation from existing patterns. Resulting changes in life-years lost due to coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancers were modelled using life tables, and changes in greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of diets were estimated. The primary outcomes of the model were changes in life-years per 100 000 total population over 40 years (to 2050).

Findings

The optimised diets had up to 30% lower blue water footprints and generally contained lower amounts of wheat, dairy, and poultry, and increased amounts of legumes. In the 2050 scenario, adoption of these diets would on average result in 6800 life-years gained per 100 000 total population (95% CI 1600–13 100) over 40 years. The dietary changes were accompanied by reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The magnitude of the health and environmental effects varied between dietary patterns.

Interpretation

Modest changes in diets could help to address projected reductions in the availability of freshwater for irrigation in India. These dietary changes could also simultaneously reduce diet-related greenhouse gas emissions and improve diet-related health outcomes.

Funding

Wellcome Trust.