Children’s diets are suffering from climate change, according to a major new study in 19 countries. Researchers studied the diets of more than 107,000 children in Africa, Asia and Latin America and found a link between long-term higher temperatures and poor nutrition.
The researchers found that the impact of the climate was so great that it outweighed efforts to reduce poverty and improve access to education, water and toilets, undermining some health programs. international Development.
The study by researchers at the University of Vermont looked at diet diversity, a measure of nutrition that calculates the number of food groups eaten over a specific period of time.
He found that five of the six regions studied showed significant reductions in diet diversity associated with higher temperatures.
The findings, published in Environmental Research Letters, help explain the fact that while child malnutrition has declined globally over the past decades, undernourishment has increased since 2015, under extreme weather conditions.
The higher temperatures resulting from climate change can affect the yields of staple crops, including feed for animals, which in turn impacts their productivity and can increase the demand for water from animals, which puts more strain on animals. the resources.
The impacts mean that food prices may also increase, adding additional pressure in poor areas in particular.
The findings raise questions about how to tackle child malnutrition as policies have tended to focus on lifting families out of poverty and accessing basic facilities.
In some areas, the results have been particularly striking.
In West Africa, the study found that higher long-term average temperatures were worse for feeding children than being in the region’s poorest households.
West Africa is seen as a hotspot of climate change, with rising temperatures severely impacting the land and water resources available for growing food.
“Certainly future climate changes were predicted to affect malnutrition, but it surprised us that the higher temperatures are already showing an impact,” said lead author Meredith Niles, assistant professor of nutritional and nutritional sciences. food at the University of Vermont and researcher at the university’s Gund Institute for the Environment.
Conversely, the study found that more precipitation – another consequence of climate change – can have a positive effect on children’s nutrition.
But the researchers warned that it was not a reliable method for improving children’s nutrition.
“Heavier rains in the future can bring significant benefits to the quality of the diet in several ways, but it also depends on how that rain arrives,” said co-author Molly Brown of the University. from Maryland.
“If it’s more erratic and intense, as climate change predicts, that may not be true.”