Sweets and Dining Out, Not Meat, Linked to Bigger Carbon Footprint

(CN) – Households with higher carbon footprints are eating more sweets, drinking more alcohol and dining more frequently at restaurants than those with lower carbon footprints, according to a study released Friday.

The study, published in the journal One Earth, details how a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield in England and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan, examined around 60,000 families and households across Japan in an effort to see how carbon footprints differed from house to house.

Specifically, researchers explored a well-discussed carbon theory that suggests households with a lower carbon footprint were households that consumed more vegetables and less meat than their higher carbon footprint neighbors.

Researchers discovered, however, that this theory does not hold up to carbon footprint analysis.

“This argument implies that households with high CFs consume more meat than low-CF households. An observation of diet and CF across 60,000 households in Japan, a nation whose diet and demographics are in many ways globally indicative, does not support this,” the study states, using the acronym for carbon footprint.

Data from the study suggest that the consumption of meat only explains less than 10% of the noticeable differences between high carbon footprint households and low carbon footprint households. This led researchers to explore other factors that could potentially explain the carbon footprint disparity between these two groups, an exploration that yielded surprising results.

Researchers discovered that families with higher carbon footprints were actually more frequent consumers of sweet treats and alcohol. The study found that families with higher carbon footprints were consuming these products up to three times more than lower carbon footprint families.

The study also found that eating out more frequently played a contributing factor to this carbon footprint separation, with data showing that households with higher carbon footprints were dining outside their home at restaurants more often than their lower carbon counterparts.

Scientists report that these factors contribute far more to carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions than the simple consumption of meat. The study found that eating out at restaurants, for example, was producing nearly 1,700 pounds of greenhouse gasses each year from high carbon footprint households. For comparison, meat consumption only contributed around 617 pounds of greenhouse gasses per year.

Keiichiro Kanemoto, who led the research effort and is an associate professor at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan, says this research suggests there are other factors that contribute to carbon footprints more than meat – not that meat does not play any role at all. Reducing one’s consumption of meat, Kanemoto says, can still result yield positive results.

“Meat is a high carbon footprint food. Replacing red meat consumption with white meat and vegetables will lower a family’s carbon footprint,” Kanemoto said with the release of the study.

The study reports that that there are tools and strategies that can be employed to help combat this issue going forward, and that the new information produced by this research will help to inform people on what areas need to be focused on to produce positive change.

Kanemoto says that there are two areas that could be most focused on in order to accomplish this. One is the idea of expanding carbon taxes to include alcoholic beverages and sweets so to discourage their overuse, while the other is to encourage meaningful changes for household diets.

“If we think of a carbon tax, it might be wiser to target sweets and alcohol if we want a progressive system,” Kanemoto said. “If we are serious about reducing our carbon footprints, then our diets must change. Our findings suggest that high carbon footprints are not only a problem for a small number of meat lovers in Japan. It might be better to target less nutritious foods that are excessively consumed in some populations.”

The study suggests that with this research effort taking place in a Japan, a nation with a generally healthy diet and continues to maintain the longest national population lifespan on Earth, these results indicate that any potential changes made by Japan on this issue could serve as a template for others to follow.

Using Japan as a standard, researchers believe other nations could fundamentally alter dietary choices and trends that would result in meaningful improvements to household carbon footprints around the world.

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