JAMA Viewpoint connects personal and planetary health

May 08, 2023

Healthcare providers have historically focused on the health of individual patients and relegated the planet’s health to environmentalists and lawmakers. A new Viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by NYU Meyers’ Gia Merlo challenges healthcare professionals to provide dietary guidance that benefits both patients and the planet.

Research shows that increasing consumption of animal protein has well-established negative effects on the environment, including the destruction of native ecosystems and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Dietary choices are also the largest driver of chronic diseases, with plant-based diets linked to low rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer.

“Increasing consumption of plant-based foods would augment personal health while simultaneously lessening worldwide food scarcity, pollution, and climate change, thereby improving planetary health as an indirect consequence,” the authors write.

Merlo, a clinical professor and senior advisor on wellness at NYU Meyers, and her co-author, Urvi Shah of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, suggest adopting evidence-based, low-meat dietary patterns, noting that physicians can advocate for such change.

“Ultimately, the greatest benefit lies in incremental changes towards increasing unprocessed plant-based food consumption for personal health reasons with the simultaneous benefits to planetary health,” they write in JAMA.