Agriculture is a major contributor to India's environmental footprint, particularly through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from livestock and fresh water used for irrigation. These impacts are likely to increase in future as agriculture attempts to keep pace with India's growing population and changing dietary preferences. Within India there is considerable dietary variation, and this study therefore aimed to quantify the GHG emissions and water usage associated with distinct dietary patterns.
Five distinct diets were identified from the Indian Migration Study – a large adult population sample in India – using finite mixture modelling. These were defined as: Rice & low diversity, Rice & fruit, Wheat & pulses, Wheat, rice & oils, Rice & meat. The GHG emissions of each dietary pattern were quantified based on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach, and water use was quantified using Water Footprint (WF) data. Mixed-effects regression models quantified differences in the environmental impacts of the dietary patterns.
There was substantial variability between diets: the rice-based patterns had higher associated GHG emissions and green WFs, but the wheat-based patterns had higher blue WFs. Regression modelling showed that the Rice & meat pattern had the highest environmental impacts overall, with 0.77 (95% CI 0.64–0.89) kg CO2e/capita/day (31%) higher emissions, 536 (95% CI 449–623) L/capita/day (24%) higher green WF and 109 (95% CI 85.9–133) L/capita/day (19%) higher blue WF than the reference Rice & low diversity pattern.
Diets in India are likely to become more diverse with rising incomes, moving away from patterns such as the Rice & low diversity diet. Patterns such as the Rice & meat diet may become more common, and the environmental consequences of such changes could be substantial given the size of India's population. As global environmental stress increases, agricultural and nutrition policies must recognise the environmental impacts of potential future dietary changes.
This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ programme (Grant number 103932). The Wellcome Trust had no role in the design, analysis or writing of this article.
The Indian Migration Study (IMS) was funded by Wellcome Trust (Grant number GR070797MF).
LA’s PhD studentship is funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH). SA is supported by a Wellcome Trust Capacity Strengthening Strategic Award-Extension phase to the Public Health Foundation of India and a consortium of UK universities (WT084754/Z/08/A)
- greenhouse gas emission
- water footprint
- dietary pattern