New paper Brazil diet impacts 1987-2017

Hi All, (hope this is the right forum category)
We have just had a paper published on Ultra processed foods in brazil/ the temporal trends of dietary shifts and their environmental impacts:

Happy to talk further if anyone is interested :slight_smile:

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Hi Christian

Thanks for posting this interesting paper. As far as I understand, from reading it, the paper shows that diet related GHGs in Brazil have increased by 21% in the last 35 years, and most of this increase results from the increases in UPF consumption. However, by totting up the figures you provide in the paper in Table 1 there has also been an increase in overall calorie intakes - also of about 20% - you don’t discuss this explicitly in your paper, unless I missed it.

I am afraid I don’t know enough about the food security situation in Brazil over the last 35 years but I was under the impression that it has faced substantial food insecurity, and it has put in place policies to tackle it, such as the Zero Hunger initiative, with some success. So a consequence of a strategy to address hunger would be that overall calorie intakes would increase. Of course I am well aware that increases in calories are not the only thing that’s needed - dietary quality is of paramount importance - and I’m also aware that Brazil now faces triple burdens of ongoing hunger which coexist with obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. Increased calorie intake does not necessarily mean better nutrition and the rise in UPF consumption is extremely concerning in this respect.

However, I would have been interested in a counterfactual analysis which explored what the environmental impacts of a successful strategy to address hunger and malnutrition might have been based on assumed increases in access to, availabilty and consumption of unprocessed and minimally processed foods, as defined by the NOVA system. Otherwise the only conclusion I can draw from this paper is that as calorie intakes rise, so do environmental impacts - because more food overall has been produced. Any comments much appreciated!

Hi Tara,

Thank you for raising the discussion. You are correct that Brazil faces a multiple burden of diet-related issues. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! All of the authors wanted to help craft a reply…

We agree with you that environmental impacts increase as calorie intake increases. That is the reason we present all environmental impacts per 1000kcal. For example, in 1987 we found that the Brazilian diet had 1538·6 g CO2eq / 1000 kcal (or 3077 g CO2eq for 2000 kcal). Thirty year later, this number increased to 1866 g of CO2eq / 1000 kcal (or 3732 g CO2eq for 2000 kcal). So, even if the calorie intake was unchanged, the environmental impacts would be growing due to changes in food choices.

It is true that obesity is growing in Brazil. However, food purchases data is showing a decrease in kcal. Supplementary table 1 (appendix) shows that per capita energy intake was 1873.5 kcal in 1987, and in 1135.8 kcal in 2017. We believe the apparent decrease in calories is explained by: 1) possible underreporting; 2) the household budget survey reports information of food purchased for consumption at home only; data from another study show that in Brazil, around 13% of kcal are consumed outside the household. That is another reason that made us present the results per 1000 kcal.

(Final random thoughts from myself,

  1. I would also say that we do not claim a linear relationship per 1000kcal. (eg we do not claim “calorie intakes rise, so do environmental impacts” ), We were interested in the impact of eating pattern, independent of total calories consumed. So eating more food in this eating pattern will mean higher impacs.
  2. I was flicking through Economic Systems Research this morning over coffee and saw an interesting graphic in which also shows this downturn in total economic consumption in the time period where our dietary consumption/calorie consumption also shifted. So the plot thickens… but I still need to think further on this.

All the best


Final final thought as I am posting… it would be great to look at the positive deviants in each of the years from a nutritional and impact perspective…this would help with your counter-factual idea I think?

Thanks for your reply Christian and woops, I should have spotted that you showed these impacts on a per 1000 kcal basis! Looking again it seems that if the emissions increase is largely accounted for by the increase in UPF consumption, then the meat and dairy component - which has risen substantially - of that UPF category accounts for about half of those increased UPF-related emissions. i.e. it’s the rise in meat consumption that’s critical here, yes? As you say, it would be really interesting to explore the counterfactual idea through examination of the existing data on any positive deviancy you might see.