Mounting research continues to show that adopting a plant-based diet can help you and the planet live longer. One study this month found that following a plant-based diet can help people live up to 25 percent longer, while at the same time improving their quality of life by slashing risks of common illnesses.
On the flip side, a plant-based diet is also beneficial to planetary longevity, a comprehensive Oxford University study also published this month found. In fact, when compared to meat-heavy diets, the plant-based diet slashes greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, land usage, and water pollution by a whopping 75 percent.
Luckily, local governments in the United States are finally starting to take note of the transformative potential that promoting a plant-based diet can have on human and planetary health.
During the 91st annual US Conference of Mayors, more than 1,400 US mayors have ratified a resolution supporting a shift towards a plant-based approach in addressing mounting challenges of chronic diseases, climate crisis, and healthcare costs.
“The resolution adoption is incredibly significant as it signals the commitment of mayors from cities across the United States and recognizes on a national level that plant-based approaches are undoubtedly part of the solution to the chronic disease, climate change, and health care cost issues we are facing,” New York City Mayor, Eric L. Adams, initiator of the resolution, tells VegNews.
“With New York at the frontline of plant-based promotion in our schools, hospitals, and agencies, we aim to lead by example and start conversations that lead to action on how other mayors and cities can apply our best practices and lessons learned to their communities,” Adams says.
Mayors adopt plant-based resolution
The US Conference of Mayors, the official non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more, represents these 1,400 cities. Each city’s chief elected official, the mayor, represents it at the conference.
Established in 1932, this organization has been instrumental in leading important social and policy changes, including during the civil rights movement and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It serves as a platform for mayors across the US to connect, shape policy, share ideas, and advocate for their citizens’ needs. The organization continues to be an effective forum for collective work and bipartisan cooperation on pressing issues.
A big issue this year was chronic diseases, which currently plague the nation at record rates, with statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating that 60 percent of US adults suffer from a chronic disease, and 40 percent have two or more such conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
The healthcare expenses primarily driven by the management of these lifestyle-related chronic diseases account for a substantial chunk of the $4.1 trillion annual healthcare spending.
“Recognition from the US Conference of Mayors that plant-based approaches hold substantial power to positively impact our public health and environmental outcomes is a critical step forward that will advance public action,” Adams says.
“This resolution signals to each of their cities that their mayors understand a plant-based approach can relieve environmental stresses, financial burdens on our health care system in the present and future, and our nation’s chronic disease epidemic,” Adams says.
Addressing these formidable challenges, the mayoral resolution proposes an upstream approach, modeled after the initiatives undertaken in NYC under Adams’ leadership.
“This acknowledgment goes beyond understanding and fuels action and accountability as mayors must lead the charge in developing public and private partnerships with our communities, agencies, hospital systems, providers, and community-based organizations, among others to be successful in addressing these multifaceted issues,” Adams says.
Eating a plant-based diet for optimal health
The resolution explicitly endorses an intervention centered around a plant-predominant diet, involving the consumption of whole, minimally processed fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
This type of diet has been scientifically proven to prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic diseases. Beyond the compelling health benefits, the plant-based approach has significant environmental implications.
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), a leading organization in advancing lifestyle medicine, has lauded this collective decision of the US Conference of Mayors to adopt the resolution as it aligns with ACLM’s own dietary position statement that advocates for predominantly plant-based diets, consisting of minimally processed foods, for the treatment, reversal, and prevention of lifestyle-related diseases.
“The resolution also is in alignment with our position on the interface of human and planetary health, which acknowledges that the leading cause of chronic disease and the leading cause of so many of our most pressing global sustainability issues is one and the same: our Western dietary pattern,” ACLM President Beth Frates, MD, tells VegNews.
The United Nations Environment Program predicts that over the next 25 years, a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet could decrease mortality and greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production by 10 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
NYC sets the plant-based precedent
NYC Mayor Adams has led his city to national recognition for its decisive actions. Adams transitioned to a mostly plant-based diet in 2016 and felt widespread health benefits, including dramatically improving the painful symptoms he experienced as a result of type 2 diabetes.
Adams has since used political capacities, both as Brooklyn Borough President and as NYC Mayor, to help others regain their health through plant-based interventions.
NYC Mayor’s Office
Over the past year, NYC has expanded lifestyle medicine programs within its public healthcare system, launched a citywide initiative to train healthcare practitioners in nutrition education, and introduced plant-based menu options in public schools, hospitals, and other government service settings.
These initiatives have manifested impressive results, with patients reporting significant improvement in cardiometabolic health, including weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and reduction of other risk factors.
Moreover, the shift to plant-based menu options is anticipated to massively cut annual costs within the hospital system and reduce the city’s food-based carbon emissions. Frates says that all of these benefits should serve as inspiration for other cities to adopt similar measures.
“The cost savings alone, which are estimated to reach $500,000 annually as a result of the switch from their previous standard meals that were not plant based to their primarily plant-based menu, are compelling and motivating,” Frates says.
NYC’s plant-based initiatives, including the remarkable expansion of the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program, are expanding across all boroughs, marking the largest expansion of clinical lifestyle medicine programs anywhere in the country.
The resolution advocates exploring opportunities to advance this plant-based approach in other cities across the nation, aligning with NYC’s successful model. It encourages implementing plant-based options in city-run institutions, promoting public awareness campaigns, and evaluating the environmental impact of food choices.
“This resolution advances the policy momentum behind plant-based diet promotion and we aim for this to continue to trickle up from the city level to the state level to the national level,” Adams says. “Mayors play a critical role in this build up as they are closest to the community, understand the nuances of their citizens, and are able to tailor policies and interventions to be successful based on the needs of their people.”
“Lessons learned at the city-level will continue to fuel the evidence supporting plant-based approaches,” Adams says.
Adams also notes that in NYC, plant-based meals and programs are always designed to support culturally and religiously diverse communities. “Our plant-based diet approach is based around inclusion and diversity, rather than restriction and this foundation is crucial in continuing to shape positive public attitudes to plant-based diets,” Adams says.
The ratification of this plant-based resolution by such a large number of US mayors and its backing by ACLM marks a significant step towards a healthier, more sustainable future.
“ACLM is the only medical professional association that has championed food as medicine since its inception, and we cannot change the trajectory of chronic disease if we don’t educate our physicians and other clinicians and engage the communities we serve,” Frates says. “To have the support of local public leadership across the nation would be a major step forward.”