Worldwide, there are almost as many overweight or obese people (1.9 billion) as there are people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (2 billion). In 2014, the number of obese people reached 600 million. In contrast, 2014 saw nearly 800 million people suffering from hunger.(1)

We have failed to solve the epidemic of malnutrition and starvation that continues to exist in many parts of the world, and now, as a global community, we are also struggling with the growing pandemic of non-communicable disease, which continues to spread as populations transition toward the Western eating pattern.

We have been negligent in other ways too: climate change, arguably humanity’s biggest challenge yet, is driving us out of the calm of the 11,000 year old Holocene, and into uncharted territory- what some scientists refer to as a new epoch in and of itself: the Anthropoc‍‍‍ene.

The Anthropocene, Planetary Boundaries, & EAT-Lancet

‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍©  2016, Plant Based Living Initiative

©  2016, Plant Based Living Initiative



‍‍‍Working Groups: EAT-Lancet

The EAT-Lancet Commission is broken down into five working groups each focussing on a different research question:

  1. What is a healthy diet?
  2. What is a sustainable food system?
  3. What are the trends shaping diets today?
  4. Can we achieve healthy diets from sustainable food systems? How?
  5. What are the solutions and policies we can apply?

We eagerly await the publication of the Commission’s report, which is expected to be released in The Lancet early next year (2018).

If you’re interested in following the commission’s progress you can do so here.

Listen to a recent RNZ interview with Rockstrom.

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The EAT-Lancet Commission

This is why Rockstrom and nineteen other world renowned scientists have formed the EAT-Lancet Commission and embarked on the lofty challenge of helping to inform how a transition toward a healthy and sustainable global food system could be achieved, and what implications doing so might have for meeting both the Sustainable Dietary Goals of the United Nations and the Paris Climate Agreement.

"The new Commission will, for the first time, scientifically assess whether a global transformation to a food system delivering healthy diets from sustainable food systems to a growing world population is possible, and what implications it might have for attaining the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. The EAT–Lancet Commission will explore synergies and trade-offs between food-related ‍‍‍human and planetary health; identify knowledge gaps, barriers, and levers of change in support of the recent international agreements; and tackle issues such as food-price volatility and food waste. It will explore which companies control the global food system and how behavioural change of consumers and producers could push the world onto a more sustainable course. And finally, the Commission will provide economic metrics to quantify the costs and savings of transforming the food system."(1)

EAT is an independent, international consortium of research institutes, NGOs, and philanthropic foundations, that envisages a "transformation of the global food system to sustainably feed a healthy population of over nine billion people by 2050.”(2)

It is great to see the world renowned medical journal, The Lancet, on board with such an endeavour, especially since its most recent Commission on Health & Climate Change barely mentioned agriculture’s impact on the environment, nor did it address the climate change mitigation potential of dietary change (not to mention the numerous health co-benefits).

Transgressing Planetary Boundaries

According to a 2015 article in the journal Science, four out of the nine planetary boundaries, which safeguard Earth’s natural cycles and maintain a ‘safe-operating space’ for the continued existence of life, have already been breached- namely Biosphere Integrity (biodiversity loss), Land-System Change (deforestation), Biochemical Flows (nitrogen and phosphorous perturbations), and, of course, Climate Change. A fifth boundary- Ocean Acidification, is on the cusp of being transgressed.

Agriculture, particularly the global demand for ultra-processed foods and intensive meat and dairy products, is inextricably linked to all of these boundaries, and is considered the leading cause of perturbation for many.(1) In the words of Johan Rockstrom, an internationally recognised expert on global sustainability and 2017 Hillary Laureate- “this situation should set global alarm bells ringing.”


[1] Rockström, J., Stordalen, G. A., & Horton, R. (2016). Acting in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 387(10036), 2364.


Author: Jon Drew

Jon is a founding member of PBLI and a fourth-year medical student at the University of Otago, in New Zealand. He is currently completing an honour's degree focused on eating patterns that are both healthy and sustainable.

‍‍‍Worth a watch: Johan Rockstrom discusses what is beyond the Anthropocene