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Commercial weight-loss diets, greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater consumption

October 22, 2023
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics

Roni A. Neff, Rebecca J. Ramsing, Brent F. Kim


Weight-loss attempts are widespread in the United States, with many using commercial weight-loss diet plans for guidance and support. Accordingly, dietary suggestions within these plans influence the nation's food-related environmental footprint.

We modelled United States (US) per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) and water footprints associated with seven commercial weight-loss diets, the US baseline, and selected other dietary patterns. We characterised consumption in commercial weight-loss diets both via modelling from provided guidelines and based on specific foods in 1-week meal plans. Cradle-to-farmgate GHGe and water footprints were assessed using a previously developed model. GHGe results were compared to the EAT-Lancet 2050 target. Water footprints were compared to the US baseline.

Weight-loss diets had GHGe footprints on average 4.4 times the EAT-Lancet target recommended for planetary health (range: 2.4–8.5 times). Bovine meat was by far the largest contributor of GHGe in most diets that included it. Three commercial diets had water footprints above the US baseline. Low caloric intake in some diets compensated for the relative increases in GHGe- and water-intensive foods.

Dietary patterns suggested by marketing materials and guidelines from commercial weight-loss diets can have high GHGe and water footprints, particularly if caloric limits are exceeded. Commercial diet plan guidance can be altered to support planetary and individual health, including describing what dietary patterns can jointly support environmental sustainability and weight loss.