Climate Change

Rising CO2 emissions may increase global iron deficiency risk

The estimated percentages of lost dietary iron under rising CO2 levels range from 1.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 26 May 2017
Commonly consumed crops like wheat have lower iron concentrations when grown under increased level of atmospheric CO2 Credit: Meeta Ahlawat / CSE
Commonly consumed crops like wheat have lower iron concentrations when grown under increased level of atmospheric CO2 Credit: Meeta Ahlawat / CSE Commonly consumed crops like wheat have lower iron concentrations when grown under increased level of atmospheric CO2 Credit: Meeta Ahlawat / CSE

Increased level of CO2 in atmosphere not only causes polar ice to melt and coastal food web to collapse, but it is also directly linked to iron deficiency in human beings. According to a study published by the researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, about 1.4 billion children below five years and women of childbearing age in some parts of Asia and Africa face the greatest risk of iron deficiency due to rising levels of human-generated CO2 emissions.

Their findings are based on recent studies that reveal how commonly consumed crops like wheat, rice, barley, legumes and maize have lower iron concentrations when grown under increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Methodology adopted

To begin with, the researchers did an estimate on the percentage of dietary iron that would be lost due to human-induced CO2 emissions between now and 2050. They also considered the staple diet of people in 152 countries around the world and the current prevalence of anaemia.

About half of the total anaemia cases around the world are believed to be caused due to lack of adequate iron in the diet.

Those most at risk

  • 354 million, or 58 per cent of all children under five years
  • 06 billion, or 60 per cent of all women of childbearing age

Regions dependent on plant-based diet

Apart from South and East Asia, regions with the highest risk are also located in North and East Africa. In all these regions, people mostly depend on plant-based diets.

Across all countries, the estimated percentage of lost dietary iron under rising CO2 levels varies from modest 1.5 per cent to severe 5.5 per cent.

Iron deficiency reduces capacity for physical activity, lowers IQ, and increases maternal and child mortality, impacting roughly a billion people worldwide.

Certain highly consumed crops—C3 grains (wheat, rice, barley), legumes and maize—have lower iron concentrations of 4-10 per cent when grown under increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations (550 PPM).

The countries with the highest anemia prevalence also derive their iron from the fewest number of foods, even after excluding countries consuming large amounts of unaccounted wild-harvest foods.

Area of concern

The researchers call for immediate intervention in the form of dietary behavioural changes, agricultural innovation and improved health delivery systems. However, they fear that it will be difficult to sensitise people about this threat as it affects the content of crops but not the yield. Hence, people might not see the health threat and don’t feel the need to adapt to it.

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