Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Climate Change, Crop Yields, and Undernutrition: Development of a Model to Quantify the Impact of Climate Scenarios on Child Undernutrition

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Climate Change, Crop Yields, and Undernutrition: Development of a Model to Quantify the Impact of Climate Scenarios on Child Undernutrition

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Global climate change is anticipated to reduce future cereal yields and threaten food security, thus potentially increasing the risk of undernutrition. The causation of undernutrition is complex, and there is a need to develop models that better quantify the potential impacts of climate change on population health.

OBJECTIVES: We developed a model for estimating future undernutrition that accounts for food and nonfood (socioeconomic) causes and can be linked to available regional scenario data. We estimated child stunting attributable to climate change in five regions in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in 2050.

METHODS: We used current national food availability and undernutrition data to parameterize and validate a global model, using a process-driven approach based on estimations of the physiological relationship between a lack of food and stunting. We estimated stunting in 2050 using published modeled national calorie availability under two climate scenarios and a reference scenario (no climate change).

RESULTS: We estimated that climate change will lead to a relative increase in moderate stunting of 1-29% in 2050 compared with a future without climate change. Climate change will have a greater impact on rates of severe stunting, which we estimated will increase by 23% (central SSA) to 62% (South Asia).

CONCLUSIONS: Climate change is likely to impair future efforts to reduce child malnutrition in South Asia and SSA, even when economic growth is taken into account. Our model suggests that to reduce and prevent nature undernutrition, it is necessary to both increase food access and improve socioeconomic conditions, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

KEY WORDS: cereal crops, climate change, Monte Carlo simulation, quantitative model, undernourishment, undernutrition. Environ Health Perspect 119:1817-1823 (2011). http://dx.doi. org/10.1289/ehp.l003311 (Online 15 August 2011)

Hunger and undernutrition are pervasive, thought to be worsening in absolute terms, and are major contributors to global ill health (Black et al. 2008; Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2009). More than one billion people are undernourished (FAO 2009), and about a third of the burden of disease in children < 5 years of age is attributable to undernutrition (Black et al. 2008). Economic growth is anticipated by many to reduce future undernutrition (Smith and Haddad 2002), although recent observations do not support this assumption (Subramanyam et al. 2011).

Global food security depends on a range of factors (Schmidhuber and Tubiello 2007), with cereal production playing a major role (Parry et al. 2009). Data suggest that global per capita cereal production plateaued during the 1980s and has since declined (Magdoff and Tokar 2010), despite production increases in some regions (FAO 2011). Further, with economic growth, dietaiy preferences tend toward greater meat consumption, placing greater demands on cereal production to provide animal feed (Msangi and Rosegrant 2011).

Concern is growing that efforts to reduce undernutrition in the coming decades may be threatened by global climate change (Nelson et al. 2010; Party et al. 2009; Schmidhuber and Tubiello 2007). Scientific assessments indicate that warming will have an overall negative impact on major cereal yields in low-latitude areas, although yields may increase in some high-latitude areas (Easterling et at 2007). Climate change could place an additional 5-170 million people "at risk of hunger" by the 2080s (Parry et al. 1999, 2004; Rosenzweig and Parry 1994). Food security is now one of the leading concerns associated with anthropogenic climate change (Parry et al. 2009).

A number of terms are used to describe hunger and undernutrition. "Undernourishment" is not a health outcome per se; it is a theoretical model-based estimate of access to calories developed by the FAO and is defined as the proportion of people "whose dietary energy consumption is continuously below a minimum dietary energy requirement for maintaining a healthy life and carrying out light physical activity with an acceptable minimum body-weight for attained-height" (FAO 2010). …

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