Saturday, March 05, 2016

Lethal Threat of Lower Fruit and Vegetable Yields

As many governments seek to promote healthy diets, scientists warn that climate-related reductions in fruit and vegetable production could have deadly consequences for millions of people.

Collecting fruit (Photo Credit: Getty) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change could bring about more than 500,000 extra adult deaths a year by 2050 – simply by reducing the supply of fruit and vegetables available to millions.

... New research ... says three out of four of those extra deaths could happen in China and India.

Marco Springmann, post-doctoral researcher in population health at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at Oxford University, UK, and colleagues report in The Lancet that their study of the impact of climate change on diet and body weight is the first of its kind, and the first to estimate the possible number of deaths in 155 countries.

“Much research has looked at food security, but little has focused on the wider health effects of agricultural production,” Dr Springmann says.

“Changes in food availability and intake also affect dietary and weight-related risk factors, such as low fruit and vegetable intake, high red meat consumption, and high body weight.  These all increase the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as death from those diseases.

Energy content
“Our results show that even modest reductions in the availability of food per person could lead to changes in the energy content and composition of diets, and these changes will have major consequences for health.”
In the same week as The Lancet paper, a team led by Barry Levy, adjunct professor of public health at Tufts University in the US, warns in the Annals of Global Health journal that a public health crisis is in the making.

“Adverse health effects caused by climate change include heat-related disorders, vector-borne diseases, food-borne and water-borne disease, respiratory and allergic disorders, malnutrition, collective violence, and mental health problems,” their paper says.

And, the scientists point out, people in the poorest countries − who emit only a tenth of the emissions released per capita in Australia, the US and Canada − will be the ones likely to suffer most.

What distinguishes The Lancet study is its embrace, and precision.  The Oxford researchers suggest that – unless action is taken to reduce global emissions – climate change could cut the projected improvement in food supply by about one-third by 2050.

This would mean an average reduction of available food per person by 3.2%, or 99 kilocalories a day.  Fruit and vegetable intake would be down by 4% (14.9 grams a day) and red meat would fall by 0.7% or 0.5 gram a day.

Nutrition-related deaths
The researchers then calculated the potential health gains from a reduction in red meat consumption, and set them against the costs of a fall in fruit and vegetable intake.

This shortfall would mean, for those nations with the greatest numbers of poorer people, a higher rate of nutrition-related deaths.  By 2050, this toll would have risen to 529,000 extra deaths that year.

[Last year, a Harvard study also published in The Lancet found that higher carbon emissions could dramatically worsen the impacts of zinc deficiency, threatening the health of 138 million people by 2050.]

Read more at Lethal Threat of Lower Fruit and Vegetable Yields

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