Climate Change Leads to Poor Diets for Children
Learn how new research shows climate change is leading directly to poor diet quality in children around the world, and what you can do about it.
Climate change has crept into the forefront of everyone’s minds. We’re feeling the impact now with unprecedented weather extremes, low water levels, melting glaciers. While much of our concern is for the planet our children will inherit, the reality is now. Researchers say climate change is causing children across the globe to eat a lower quality diet than what they were originally consuming. It makes sense when you consider how climate change is dramatically causing disruptions in farming practices, crop yields, water quality, diversity of diets, and reduction in the biodiversity of animals. As the climate continues to warm over the years, more of the negative results of a changing climate are occurring in front of our eyes, and our children not only stand to inherit it, they are already suffering its ramifications.
Eating a low-quality diet reduces children’s chances of getting many key nutrients, such as iron, folic acid, zinc, and vitamin A and D, which are necessary for their optimal development and health. A deficiency in these and other nutrients is one of the causes of malnutrition in children. Sadly, global malnutrition affects one out of every three children under the age of five, which, researchers say, could continue to increase if the efforts to control climate change are not executed, according to a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters, 2020.
Researchers discovered that an increased temperature due to climate change impacts diet diversity in children more than education, poverty, water access, and sanitation. Children living in Asia, Central and South America, and North, West, and Southeast Africa had their diet quality reduced significantly due to higher temperatures. These children are reported to be eating three food groups out of the ten groups that should be available to young adolescents, according to the study. Diet diversity was already low for this group, so if we don’t adapt, climate change could make it even worse.
If poorer diet quality results in these areas, it would most likely increase the number of children under the age of five that are suffering from what is known as “wasting,” a condition caused by limited nutrient intake characterized by a loss of lean muscle mass, weakness, or severe undernutrition. Forty-seven million children under the age of five were reported to experience wasting or severe undernutrition in 2019, which could escalate as temperatures continue to rise.
While children in parts of the world are experiencing less nutrient intake, children located in geographic areas where precipitation has increased due to climate change are associated with a more diverse diet. Also, children in affluent countries have reported to be eating six—whole grains, dark leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and animal meat—out of the ten food groups required for optimal growth.
As climate change progresses, it will continue to increase the inequalities of diet among children in the world and increase the number of children experiencing malnutrition. In order to prevent more children from suffering, we can certainly look outside ourselves to others like policy makers and organizations that we may feel have more power and sway than we do, but we as individuals can definitely fight against climate change and continued environmental degradation which could potentially ruin the health gains that were seen across the globe. Simple changes in our day-to-day routines do help. We can eat more sustainably by eating with the seasons, eating organically and sustainably produced foods, greening up our kitchens and our homes, reducing waste—all are ways to lighten our carbon footprint.
The time is now to fight for a more sustainable future for those that are currently suffering and for the future generations to come, while addressing the issues climate change has brought upon the world and young children.
Read more about this study in Environmental Research Letters, 2020.
To learn more about eating sustainably, check out the following blogs:
A Climate Friendly Diet
What is a Sustainable Eating Style?
How Does Diet Impact the Environment?
4 Ways to Eat for the Environment
Top 11 Tips For Sustainable Eating
Top 20 Eco-Friendly Kitchen Gear Shopping Guide
Green Up Your Kitchen for a Healthier Planet