Research report

Modelling the impact of reductions in meat and dairy consumption on nutrient intakes and disease risk

17 documents for this subject


Food Standards Scotland (FSS) commissioned research from the University of Edinburgh to understand the impact of achieving recommendations for reducing meat and dairy intakes made by the Climate Change Committee. The research uses data on dietary intakes collected in adults, as part of the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) in 2021.

The researchers modelled a number of scenarios where meat and dairy intake was reduced to assess the impact on micronutrient intakes, achievement of the Scottish Dietary Goals (SDG) and potential impacts on health. To ensure the robustness of the research, FSS and the University of Edinburgh consulted with representatives of the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) throughout this project. SACN members also peer reviewed the final report, alongside expertise from the University of Aberdeen.

Key findings:

  • On any given day, 86% of adults in Scotland consume some type of meat and 99% consume at least one dairy product. Meat and dairy are important sources of a number of nutrients, including iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, iodine and vitamin B12
  • Modelling completed by the University of Edinburgh showed that many population sub-groups are already at risk of low micronutrient intakes and these may be worsened by a reduction in meat and/or dairy intakes, particularly if these are not replaced with suitable alternatives
  • However the modelling also showed that it would be possible to mitigate the negative impact of a shift away from meat and dairy on micronutrient intakes, with careful consideration of replacements, such as vegetables, oily and white fish, eggs, pulses and legumes
  • Further modelling was conducted to reduce total meat consumption, by reducing intakes of red and red processed meat among high consumers only (those consuming >70g/day). If all adults living in Scotland met the SDG for red and processed red meat (70g/day), in line with existing public health recommendations, it would achieve a 16% reduction in total meat intake
  • Existing evidence demonstrates that high consumers of red and red processed meat are at higher risk of developing colo-rectal cancer. Modelling of other long term health impacts shows that if high consumers of red and red processed meat reduce intakes to no more than 70g/day, there would be a small reduction in average Body Mass Index and a small reduction in cases of cardiovascular disease over a ten-year period. The research also estimates a reduction of ~10,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes over a ten-year period

Overall, this research provides further evidence of poor diet in Scotland and additional justification for work to improve dietary intakes in general. Most people should be able to get the micronutrients they need by consuming a healthy, balanced diet as depicted by the Eatwell Guide. However, the majority of the population in Scotland do not have a diet similar to the Eatwell Guide, and meat and dairy are therefore relatively more important in the diet as an important source of micronutrients.