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Malnutrition, climate change now fellow travelers in scholars’ research

monarch on flower, butterfly

Monarch butterflies could be listed as endangered species as their migration patterns and favorite food, milkweed, are affected by global warming. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Malnutrition in all forms – including obesity – has emerged as a companion of global warming, as evidenced in reports associated with one approved last week by 195 governments that was related to the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change.

monarch on flower, butterfly

Monarch butterflies could be listed as endangered species as their migration patterns and favorite food, milkweed, are affected by global warming. Credit: David Pendered

Approved Sept. 24 in Monaco by the International Panel on Climate Change, an affiliate of the United Nations, the report continues IPCC’s attention to climate-change threats to what it identifies as the food web, food security and nutritional health.

Other studies strongly link climate change with malnutrition.

One such report joins climate change, obesity and undernutrition as components of a global syndemic, defined as a convergence of two or more epidemics. This finding is cited in a study first published online in January by The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The report in The Lancet observed:

  • “Malnutrition in all its forms, including obesity, undernutrition, and other dietary risks, is the leading cause of poor health globally. In the near future, the health effects of climate change will considerably compound these health challenges.
  • “Climate change can be considered a pandemic because of its sweeping effects on the health of humans and the natural systems we depend on (ie, planetary health). These three pandemics— obesity, undernutrition, and climate change—represent The Global Syndemic that affects most people in every country and region worldwide.”

The report included this hopeful note, which is based on the notion that a solution is possible because the entire world’s population is at risk:

  • “Recognition that these synergistic pandemics constitute a syndemic provides a more comprehensive view of their interactions, and promises common systemic actions that can unite previously disparate stakeholders.”

The global group of signatories to the study published by The Lancet includes academics affiliated with U.S. institutions including Harvard University; Virginia Tech; Brookings Institution; The George Washington University; and the Obesity Action Coalition, in Tampa.

obesity, cdc

About one in three Georgians were obese in 2018, according to the CDC. The rate exists before obesity among lower income persons is expected to increase as global warming raises the cost of healthier food, according to some academic reports. Credit: cdc.gov

The predictions come as the obesity rates in the United States have reached 40 percent for adults, and one in five for youngsters to age 19, according to the latest report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is defined as a relation between height and weight and, for children, age.

The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change continues to cite climate-change threats to the food web, food security and nutritional health. The report was approved last week in Monaco – Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Food and water are cited in a statement from Hoesung Lee, IPCC’s elected chair and endowed chair professor at Korea University’s Graduate School of Energy and Environment:

  • “The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people.
  • “But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”

The IPCC’s most recent study evaluated climate change as it affects water in the global ocean and on mountains, the later in the form of glaciers, permafrost and snow.

Threats to the food chain appear throughout the document, including this observation from the executive summary:

  • “Since the mid-20th century, the shrinking cryosphere in the Arctic and high-mountain areas has led to predominantly negative impacts on food security, water resources, water quality, livelihoods, health and well-being, infrastructure, transportation, tourism and recreation, as well as culture of human societies, particularly for Indigenous peoples (high confidence).
  • “Costs and benefits have been unequally distributed across populations and regions.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. AdmitKard September 30, 2019 8:41 am

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