More than 500,000 people could die by 2050 due to global warming and subsequent dietary changes. Scientists found that current rates of climate change will greatly reduce crop productivity and yield fewer fruits and vegetables.
"Much research has looked at food security, but little has focused on the wider health effects of agricultural production," Marco Springmann, lead author of the recent study from the University of Oxford, explained. "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 bodyweight. These all increase the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as death from those diseases."
The study estimates that at least 155 countries will be affected by reduced crop productivity, with low- and middle-income countries of the Western Pacific region taking the hardest hit. However, even the smallest of changes in diet can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Therefore, researchers encourage cutting global carbon emissions, improving education and the availability of healthy foods like fruit and vegetables.
Their findings were based on an agricultural economic model fitted with data on carbon emission trajectories, socioeconomic pathways, and possible climate responses. This allowed them to estimate the impact on global food production, trade and consumption for 2050.
Researchers then calculated additional deaths linked to changes in diet and body weight using specialized models and compared their findings to a model of the world without climate change. Their study estimates 529,000 more people will die in 2050 than would have without warming.
What's worse is that even with rigorous climate action, including sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, there will likely be about 154,000 extra deaths in 2050. Furthermore, their models predict that deaths associated with decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables are far greater than those associated with reduced red meat consumption.
"Climate change is likely to have a substantial negative impact on future mortality, even under optimistic scenarios. Adaptation efforts need to be scaled up rapidly," Springmann added in a statement. "Public-health programs aimed at preventing and treating diet and weight-related risk factors, such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake, must be strengthened as a matter of priority to help mitigate climate-related health effects."
However, there may be an upside. While most of the world is expected to suffer an increase in deaths due to diet changes caused by climate change, a few nations in Central America and southern Africa may experience a lower mortality rate as the reduction in obesity and calories available outweigh other factors.
Their findings were recently published in The Lancet.