A simple diet change that could save 750 thousand lives

Forage fish, such as herrings, sardines and anchovies, “It is a promising alternative to red meat” and its increased consumption could offer important benefits for public health, avoiding between 500,000 and 750,000 deaths in 2050 worldwide.

The study is a data analysis led by the National Institute of Environmental Studies in Tsukuba (Japan), which adds that the prevalence of disability due to diseases could be significantly reduced related to diet.

The possible deaths avoided would be related, in particular, to coronary heart disease and would also save between 8 and 15 million years of life lived with disability, most of them concentrated in low- and middle-income countries.

Forage fish, limited supply

Forage fish can only replace a fraction, about 8%, of global red meat due to its limited supply, but could increase global daily per capita fish consumption close to the recommended level, as well as reduce food consumption by 2%. deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and bowel cancer in 2050.

Adopting this type of diet would be “especially useful” for low- and middle-income countries, where these fish are cheap and abundant, and where the number of victims of heart diseasesin particular, is high.

The research published by BMH Global Health is based on databases on red meat forecasts for 2050 in 137 countries and historical data on forage fish catches in marine habitats.

Dangers associated with the consumption of red meat

There is increasing evidence linking the consumption of red and processed meat with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases, which accounted for around 70% of all deaths in the world in 2019.

Of these, the study recalls, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and bowel cancer accounted for almost half (44%) of this figure, with coronary artery diseases taking the lion’s share.

Marine forage fish are rich in omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, whose intake can prevent coronary heart disease, and are abundant in calcium and vitamin B12. Additionally, they have the lowest carbon footprint of all animal food sources.

Currently, researchers recall, three quarters of the catches, including a significant amount caught off the coasts of countries suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition, are crushed to obtain fish meal and oil, which are used, above all, in fish farming for high-income consumers.

Important public health benefits

The researchers created four different scenarios, each representing a different pattern of forage fish allocation on a global scale.

The analysis showed that, if widely adopted for direct human consumption, forage fish could provide important public health benefits, especially in terms of reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease, summarizes BMJ.

For landlocked countries, the study indicates that global marketing and trade in forage fish should be expanded.