Climate plays an important role in our health, and climate changes bring about certain conditions people are not used to and aren’t equipped to react well to.
The American public health care systems are fairly well-developed (at least when compared to developing countries), but health problems can occur even here. However, developing countries will probably suffer the most, mainly due to the predicted rise of zinc deficiency which according to NIH is an essential nutrient which increases immune function and is very important for the development and health of children and pregnant women. Zinc deficiency can lead to serious health problems, and in children even cause death. Over 100,000 children younger than five die each year from zinc deficiency which causes severe cases of diarrhea and pneumonia. There are no predictions of things getting better any time soon, since the carbon levels in the atmosphere are constantly rising.
Climate change has brought about extreme weather occurrences, raised sea levels, and has started melting polar caps.
On top of all that, these changes also reduce the content of nutrients in the foods essential for survival. One of the most serious problems regarding these nutrients is the reduced level of zinc in most crops, due to significantly raised carbon levels. A study published this May in Nature found that these increasing carbon levels led to around 2 billion people having zinc deficiency contributing to 63 million lives lost each year. According to the study, these people’s source of zinc in nutrition was mostly coming from C3 grains and legumes which have seen a significant decrease in this nutrient, as well as iron, in those areas where the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has increased.
Since it is predicted that the levels of atmospheric CO2 will further rise, it doesn’t seem that this horrible situation will improve and this means that future generations will have to suffer health-related consequences. When it comes to protein, these C3 crops have decreased levels, while C4 crops are not as affected.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of California, Davis conducted a study which was recently published in the Lancet Global Health.
The study estimated the intake of zinc per day and per person for the populations of 188 countries where the concentration of carbon is ambient. The study found that by 2050, 138 million people will be at risk of zinc deficiency, and the regions most likely to be affected are Africa, South Asia and India.
The mentioned study also suggests that the negative effects of climate change are mostly a result of carbon emissions, which mainly leads to developing countries suffering the most.
A study published this June in PLOS One found that due to unsuitable temperatures, light, and limited water availability, many farmers have seen a decline in suitable plant growing. Greenhouse gas emissions can also affect the climate and its suitability for growing plants. The study also found that this decreased plant growth will have the most serious effect on the poorest countries in tropical areas which mainly depend on plant-related foods for survival.
The lead researcher of the study, Samuel Myers said that it is clear that “the wealthiest people are putting the most carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the poorest people are experiencing the most vulnerability to this effect”.
It seems that zinc in food will continue to decrease, and that future generations will be more vulnerable and prone to diseases due to having a weakened immune system.
However, there are things people can do in order to remain as healthy as possible – taking zinc supplements for one. But food producers can also fortify staple foods with this nutrient and make the foods healthier. Although developing countries are suffering the most serious consequences currently, America isn’t spared either – the crop-killing drought in California is the best example of this.