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Could Climate Change Make Food Less Nutritious?

Could Climate Change Make Food Less Nutritious?

Staple foods like wheat, beans, and other legumes could struggle in the coming years — which will have far-reaching public health consequences

As the climate crisis progresses, the planet is becoming less inhabitable — not only for humans and other animals, but also for plants.

Farmers know first-hand how climate disasters, pollinator loss, heat waves, flash floods, and diminishing water supplies can make growing crops harder and less predictable. Yet many questions remain when it comes to how exactly crops are responding across cultivars and varying landscapes.

A new review paper, published in Advances in Nutrition, draws together the existing science of how climate change threatens staple grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts across the world, while also underscoring the significant need for further research. The team of public health researchers from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in London conclude that climate change — including the combined impacts of rising temperature and carbon dioxide, rising sea levels, and climate disasters — will cause crop yields, or the amount of food we can produce on the planet, to fall. The authors project that this could trigger increased spikes in food prices, deepening food insecurity and micronutrient deficiencies.

“The paper shows very clearly that production will definitely be diminished,” said Martin Bloem, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and an author on the review. The researchers found that foods rich in micronutrients — particularly vitamin A, zinc, and iron — will see decreased yields, especially threatening the staple food and nutrient supply of low- and middle-income countries. While unable to draw more nuanced conclusions, Bloem says “there’s enough evidence that we need to [turn to] solutions.”