Health professionals have called on leaders attending the UN Climate Change conference (COP26) in Scotland to prioritise changing food systems to reduce their effect on the climate.
The Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health has brought together researchers from around the world to find solutions on how to ensure healthy cities, and control shifting patterns of infectious diseases and deliver sustainable food systems.
They called for a reduction in premature deaths worldwide by pursuing zero-carbon and climate-resilient food systems. Current food systems are said to be responsible for between 20% and 35% of carbon emissions globally.
Modern diets also affect health because they are the drivers of noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, undernutrition, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
“We have a massive food system that has been able to deliver food to people across the world, but it has not done it very well,” said Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“We have 50-million children who are wasted. That means they are dangerously thin and have a significantly increased risk of death,” Dangour said. “We have 150-million children who are stunted and at the same time we have obesity … so the food system is delivering food for seven and half billion people, but the diets are unhealthy.”
Global warming will reduce food security.
“By 2050, the yields of the cereals will be totally decimated by 15%, 20% or 30% in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. There are projected declines in the availability and production of fruit, vegetables and legumes,” Dangour said.
Among the solutions was a call for governments to make public health a priority through improved access to affordable and climate-resilient food, which will reduce the burden on health systems caused by noncommunicable diseases.
Health professionals said a reduced intake of animal products and an increased intake of plant-based foods will result in improved health for populations.