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Future proofing future generations

We have the ability to empower students to take charge of their health, says the Russell Partnership’s Professor David Russell

Connecting the story behind our food to is not always easy to do. Although it can be complex, disconcerting and most importantly eye opening – we must consider how some foods are contributing to huge global inequalities and chronic disease amid student populations. Research now suggest that the 21st century diet has a profound effect on wellbeing and the environment around us, and our advanced global population has the unequivocal power to restore balance to natural ecosystems through positive, sustainable food choices. 

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the increasing global food demand is placing a heavy and growing burden on the ecosystems that provide human food. Modern agriculture has become a key driver of biodiversity loss throughout Asia and Europe. In 2010, food consumption and production were responsible for 20-30% of all environmental impacts in the EU, not only contributing to climate change, but also to air and water pollution, drought and soil erosion. 

We now know that Livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s excessive demand for food and feedstock also contributes significantly to the pressure on biodiversity hotspots abroad like the Brazilian Cerrado and the Heart of Borneo. Animal products, such as meat and dairy place a heavy burden on environmental resources, as raising livestock requires large amounts of feed, water and energy. For example, animal agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of the United States’ water consumption. 

We must consider how some foods are contributing to huge global inequalities and chronic disease amid student populations

As influencers of the next generation, we have a responsibility to share vital information that has the potential to safeguard our resources and longevity of ours student populations.

Alongside environmental protection, there is the opportunity to develop student health through nutritional education and intervention. Through utilisation of appropriate resources, our students have the opportunity and capacity to ‘make the connection’ between food consumption and its corresponding implications on the body’s physical and mental state. Physically, there is evidence to suggest that a diet rich in animal products can play a role in the development of chronic diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Acne, Cancer, Anxiety Disorders, Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hair Loss and Digestive Issues. We need to be encouraging diets rich in sustainable whole foods, rich in nutrient-content yet low in price and supporting schemes such as ‘Meat-Free Mondays’.

We have the ability to empower students to take charge of their health by nourishing their bodies with nutritionally dense, sustainable whole foods. With the world population estimated to grow to around nine billion or more by 2050, food choices will be vital to the conservation of the ecosystems that support them, and through University-based programmes there is the opportunity to educate our next generation on the importance of futureproofing themselves and the world they live in. 

We can make a difference!

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