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Swapping Red Meat for Herring/Sardines Could Save Up to 750,000 Lives/Year in 2050

Swapping red meat for ‘forage fish’, such as herring, sardines, and anchovies, could save up to 750,000 lives a year in 2050 and significantly reduce the prevalence of disability as a result of diet-related disease, suggests a data analysis published in the open access journal BMJ Global Health.

Adopting this type of diet would be especially helpful for low- and middle-income countries, where these fish are cheap and plentiful, and where the toll taken by heart disease, in particular, is high, say the researchers.

The limited supply of forage fish isn’t sufficient to replace all red meat, acknowledge the researchers. But it could potentially increase the daily per capita consumption of fish to close to the recommended level of 40 kcal in most countries, as well as reducing deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and bowel cancer by 2% in 2050.

For landlocked countries without direct access to seafood, such as Mongolia, Turkmenistan, and other African countries, global marketing and trade in forage fish would need to be expanded, the researchers point out.

“Despite the theoretical potential of forage fish, several barriers, such as fish meal and oil processing, overfishing, climate change, and cultural acceptance may prevent the health benefits of forage fish from being realised,” they acknowledge.

“Multi-sectoral policy coordination and action (eg: prioritising access to affordable fish, such as forage fish, for the poor and promoting the use of nutrient-rich microalgae as fish feed) could help to address some of these barriers,” they suggest.

Culturally tailored interventions that promote healthy lifestyles, increase family and community support, and raise awareness of the relationship between disease and diet could all enhance the chances of successful behaviour and diet change, they say.

Other strategies, such as climate change impact menu labels on food items, and consumer education on the high nutritional value and lower chemical levels in forage fish, could also help promote the switch away from red meat to forage fish, they suggest.


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