Rising CO2 levels will make food less nutritious, study reveals

Rising CO2 levels will make food less nutritious, study reveals

A new study has revealed that rising carbon emissions could make food crops less nutritious, damaging the health of millions of people, with the world’s poorest likely to be the worst hit.

Research from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health has revealed that climate change could force an additional 175 million people to develop a zinc deficiency by the mid-21st Century and force 122 million into protein deficiency.

In addition, 1.4 billion women of child bearing age and infants will live in regions at high risk of iron deficiency.

Zinc deficiency is linked to difficulties with wound healing, infections and diarrhoea; iron deficiencies are linked to complications in pregnancy and child-birth; and protein deficiencies are linked to stunting.

The research revealed that stable crops such as wheat and rice in fields with elevated carbon dioxide levels had 17% lower protein, zinc and iron compared to those grown in areas with less CO2.

Dr Matthew Smith, co-author of the study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health commented:

“This is another demonstration of how higher CO2 could affect global health that may not be as well recognised”

Dr Smith added:

“It's more hidden ... most people wouldn't necessarily notice if they lost 5 percent of iron or zinc from their wheat, but it could have broad ranging health effects”

The researchers believe that carbon dioxide makes plants grow faster, therefore creating fewer micro nutrients.

The findings cover 151 countries, reveal that North Africa, south and south-east Asia and the Middle East are likely to be hardest hit. For example, in India it is estimated that by 2050 around 50 million more people will be zinc deficient, and 38 million more will be protein deficient.


Join us for the 10th Anniversary AIDF Global Summit next week in Washington D.C, USA.

If you’d like to stay informed on the latest updates in aid and development, please sign up for the AIDF newsletter.

Be part of the humanitarian aid and development community!

Register now to receive AIDF's newsletter with insights into latest trends, innovations and best practice in the humanitarian and development sectors