A new study has found changes in diet caused by climate change and poor crop productivity could lead to more than 500,000 deaths a year in 35 years.
The forecast is based on predictions of food availability in 155 countries that show average per-person fruit and vegetable consumption around the world could fall by 4 per cent by 2050.
Bloomberg Newsagency reports according to a study from the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food published in the United Kingdom medical journal The Lancet at least 500,000 extra people will probably die by 2050 from health effects related to warming temperatures and dietary changes.
Lower fruit and vegetable consumption and changes in body weight may raise the risk of non-infectious illnesses including heart disease, stroke and cancer, the study showed.
Lower- and middle-income countries will be hardest hit by reduced food supplies, especially the western Pacific region and southeast Asia, including China and India, the study showed.
AAP newsagency reports Dr Marco Springmann, from Oxford University, said: “We found that in 2050 these changes could be responsible for around 529,000 extra deaths.
“We looked at the health effects of changes in agricultural production that are likely to result from climate change and found that even modest reductions in the availability of food per person could lead to changes in the energy content and composition of diets, and these changes will have major consequences for health.”
The model used by the researchers showed the negative effects of reduced fruit and vegetable intake far exceeded the positive ones of consuming less red meat, which prevented 29,000 deaths.
The biggest impact on fruit and vegetable consumption was likely to be felt in high-income countries, the researchers reported.
Dr Springmann added: “Climate change is likely to have a substantial negative impact on future mortality, even under optimistic scenarios.
“Adaptation efforts need to be scaled up rapidly.
“Public-health programmes aimed at preventing and treating diet- and weight-related risk factors, such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake, must be strengthened as a matter of priority to help mitigate climate-related health effects.”
AAP reports that commenting on the findings in the journal, Dr Alistair Woodward, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and Professor John Porter, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, wrote: “Restriction of our view of the consequences of climate change to what might happen in the next 30-40 years is understandable in terms of conventional concerns with data quality and model stability, but might underestimate the size of future risks, and therefore undervalue present actions needed to mitigate and adapt.”