A new study funded by The Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food reveals that climate change could cause the deaths of over half a million people by 2050. The study, conducted by researchers from the United Kingdom and United States and published in The Lancet, found these deaths could occur because of climate change’s impact on agriculture – especially fruits and vegetables.

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By 2050, fruits and vegetables may not be as widely available, and the lack of proper nutrition will put more people at risk for heart disease, strokes, and some cancers.

The researchers, led by Marco Springmann, found there will be a percent decrease in fruits and vegetables consumed, while available food worldwide will decrease by 3.2 percent. This reduction will hit the hardest in places like China and India. The researchers estimate that this could lead to the death of 529,000 people.

“The health burden related to climate change is much bigger than we thought,” said researcher Peter Scarborough of the University of Oxford.

Currently, less people die from insufficient diets due to poverty alleviation efforts, but carbon emissions could decelerate that hopeful trend.

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“In The Lancet, Marco Springmann and colleagues dig deeper, and report the most advanced projections so far of the effects of climate change on food and health for 155 regions in the year 2050,” said professors Alistair Woodward and John Porter in a commentary piece. “But what if there is good reason to believe the greatest risks lie further out, beyond 2050?”

Even with the uncertainties present in complex research, the original study projects anywhere from 314,000 to 736,000 people could die as a result.

Another professor, Andy Challinor from the University of Leeds, also commented on the study. “This is a valiant attempt to quantify the effects of climate change on the future of food production. It’s very difficult to estimate exactly what those impacts will be [but] what we can say for certain is that the pressures on agricultural production will certainly be greater because of climate change,” he said. “Year-to-year variability of food production will become greater, which will make global food markets more unpredictable. And extreme climatic events will become more common, such as the wheat harvest failure in Russia in 2010 which affected UK food prices. The effects of such events on global food availability and prices will be felt in the UK and around the world.”

The researchers found we can still take measures to prevent some of the deaths.

“Adoption of climate-stabilisation pathways would reduce the number of climate-related deaths by 29-71 percent, depending on their stringency,” they said. “Strengthening of public health programmes aimed at preventing and treating diet and weight-related risk factors could be a suitable climate change adaptation strategy.”

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia Commons (1,2)