MONDAY, Aug. 27, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Rising levels of carbon dioxide caused by air pollution are making crops less nutritious, a new study warns.
That could put hundreds of millions of people worldwide at risk for protein, zinc and iron deficiencies and related health problems, the researchers said, with people in poor countries at most risk.
"Our research makes it clear that decisions we are making every day -- how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase -- are making our food less nutritious and imperiling the health of other populations and future generations," said lead author Samuel Myers, a principal research scientist at Harvard School of Public Health.
Humans tend to get most of their nutrients from plant sources, the researchers said: 63 percent of protein from diet comes from plants, as does 81 percent of iron and 68 percent of zinc.
The analysis concluded that by 2050, higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will make staple crops such as rice and wheat less nutritious and could result in 175 million people becoming zinc-deficient and 122 million people becoming protein-deficient.
About 1.4 billion women of childbearing age and children younger than 5 who are at risk of iron deficiency could have their dietary iron intake reduced by 4 percent, putting them at increased risk of anemia and other diseases, the researchers added..
The study also said that nutritional deficiencies currently affecting billions of people would likely worsen due to less nutritious crops.
Currently, more than 2 billion people worldwide are estimated to be deficient in one or more nutrients.
The findings were published online Aug. 27 in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"One thing this research illustrates is a core principle of the emerging field of planetary health," Myers said in a Harvard news release.
"We cannot disrupt most of the biophysical conditions to which we have adapted over millions of years without unanticipated impacts on our own health and well-being," he said.
Doctors Without Borders has more on malnutrition.