Comparing the water, energy, pesticide and fertilizer usage for the production of foods consumed by different dietary types in California

Public Health Nutr. 2015 Sep;18(13):2425-32. doi: 10.1017/S1368980014002833. Epub 2014 Dec 17.


Objective: To compare the use of water, energy, pesticides and fertilizer to produce commodities for two dietary patterns that vary in the content of plant and animal products.

Design: A unique analysis using 'real-world' data was performed, in contrast to previous analyses which applied simulated data. Consumption data from the Adventist Health Study were used to identify two dietary patterns with a markedly different consumption of several plant and animal products. State agricultural data were collected and applied to commodity production statistics. Indices were created to allow a comparison of the resource requirements for each dietary pattern.

Setting: California, USA.

Subjects: None.

Results: The diet containing more animal products required an additional 10 252 litres of water, 9910 kJ of energy, 186 g of fertilizer and 6 g of pesticides per week in comparison to the diet containing less animal products. The greatest contribution to the difference came from the consumption of animal products, particularly beef.

Conclusions: Consuming a more plant-based diet could to an extent alleviate the negative environmental impacts related to food production. As a method to feed ourselves more sustainably, behavioural adjustments appear to be a very important tool.

Keywords: Food production; Sustainable dietary patterns.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture / economics
  • Agriculture / methods
  • Animal Husbandry / economics
  • Animal Husbandry / methods
  • Animals
  • California
  • Conservation of Natural Resources* / economics
  • Crops, Agricultural / economics*
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diet* / economics
  • Energy-Generating Resources / economics
  • Environmental Policy*
  • Fertilizers / economics
  • Food Supply / economics
  • Humans
  • Meat / economics*
  • Models, Economic*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Pesticides / economics
  • Water Resources


  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides