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Additional Deaths, Health Disparities Forecast in Pair of Climate Change Studies

Allison Inserro
A pair of articles paint a devastating picture of the effects of climate change on human health. One paper cited increased air pollution spurred by air conditioning and another paper said that the decreased nutritional quality of staple crops will increase diseases like anemia and diarrhea.

In another article, scientists predict reduced crop nutritional content and subsequent health disparities due to increased carbon dioxide levels associated with climate change.2 In their study looking at 137 countries, the researchers incorporated estimates of climate change, crop nutrient concentrations, dietary patterns and disease risk into a model of iron and zinc deficiency.

Their estimates predict a disease burden of approximately 125.8 million disability-adjusted life-years globally over the period from 2015 to 2050, disproportionately affecting southeast Asian and sub-Saharan African countries, because of a greater burden of infectious diseases, diarrhea, and anemia.

These regions already have high existing disease burdens from zinc and iron deficiencies.

Climate mitigation strategies, such as the Paris Agreement, may be more effective than traditional public health interventions in averting this disparity, they wrote. They tested strategies consistent with the Paris agreement, which the United States has withdrawn from, with 5 public health interventions.

Of the traditional public health interventions, zinc supplementation would be expected to avert 5.5%, iron supplementation 15.7%, malaria mitigation 3.2%, pneumonia mitigation 1.6%, and diarrhea mitigation 0.5% of the disease burden.

By contrast, interventions consistent with the Paris Agreement, which was previously anticipated to feasibly prevent approximately 47% of the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations by 2050, would be expected to avert 48.2% of global carbon dioxide–attributable zinc and iron deficiency burden of disease (95% credible interval: 47.8% ± 48.5%).

1. Abel DW, Holloway T, Harkey M, et al. Air-quality-related health impacts from climate change and from adaptation of cooling demand for buildings in the eastern United States: an interdisciplinary modeling study. PLoS Med. 2018;15(7):e1002599. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002599.

2. Weyant C, Brandeau ML, Burke M, Lobell DB, Bendavid E, Basu J. Anticipated burden and mitigation of carbondioxide-induced nutritional deficiencies and related diseases: a simulation modeling study. PLoS Med. 2018;15(7):e1002586. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002586.

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