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Climate Change, Nutrition and Health

Since, August 2019, the research group “Climate Change and Health” is led by PD, Dr. Ina Danquah and Prof., Dr. Rainer Sauerborn. They coordinate the recently established Research Unit “Climate Change and Health in sub-Saharan Africa” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Within the Research Unit, our group collaborates with colleagues from HIGH, Centre de Recherche en Santé de Nouna (CRSN), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke (DIfE), the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT), Charité – Universitaetsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt University Berlin, and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (SwissTPH): https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/newsroom/wissenschaft-im-zeichen-des-globalen-wandels/

IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH

The impact of climate change on our live is felt worldwide. Rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature extremes, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and density of weather events, and rising sea levels confer severe direct and indirect impacts on human health. Heat waves, floods, droughts, and fires confer direct health impacts in the form of cardiovascular heat stress, injuries, and exacerbation of chronic diseases. Indirect health impacts of climate change may be long-term and might progressively lead to behavioral changes. Those include the health consequences of climate change-related migration, the changes in exposure to vector-born infectious diseases, and the impact on nutritional status due to agricultural losses, food insecurity and poverty. Despite the fact that global climate change appears to hit low- and middle-income countries most strongly, the exact magnitude of health impacts there are only insufficiently described.

Therefore, we aim at defining the impacts of climate change on human health with a particular focus on nutrition-related diseases in low- and middle-income countries, including Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ghana, India, and the Pacific Island countries. This involves quantifying and attributing the impacts of climate change on ill health, undernutrition and food insecurity. We use systematic literature and scoping reviews; we conduct observational and intervention studies, and we apply climate models for impact projections to our long-term weather and health data, covering various policy relevant time horizons (2030, 2050, and 2100). This research agenda will support informed decision making and priority setting for the prevention and the management of climate change-related health outcomes. 

ADAPTATIONS TO CLIMATE CHANGE

It is widely accepted that climate change impacts on human health and that we need concerted efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and thus, slow down global warming. Yet, there have been very limited concerted efforts by public health scientists, climate change researchers, and social scientists to design and implement adaptation strategies among vulnerable populations. Clearly, adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies to reduce climate change impacts on human health. However, the effects of reduced emissions (=mitigation) by slowing the rate of temperature increase will take several decades to be seen. Therefore, adaptation strategies will be important in coping with anticipated early impacts. Vulnerable population groups are young children, the elderly, and multi-morbid individuals. Particularly, populations in sub-Saharan Africa are affected as they exhibit the lowest adaptive capacity. Indeed, this sub-continent faces an unfinished agenda of combatting undernutrition and infectious diseases with all the negative societal and economic consequences. At the same time, non-communicable conditions have been rapidly emerging in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decades, and their management now competes with the limited resources of the local health systems. To date, adaptation strategies to combat these health impacts of climate change have been insufficiently defined and developed. Specifically, autonomous and planned adaptations will be necessary to meet the challenges of vulnerable population groups in Europe and in low- and middle-income countries.

Therefore, we aim at designing, evaluating, and implementing behavioral change strategies and technologies that support the adaptation to climate change-related health impacts in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. The specific objectives are:

  1. To design an integrated agro-biodiversification and nutrition intervention for rural Burkina Faso and Kenya to reduce child undernutrition in small-scale, subsistence farming families, and to project the potential of such adaptation strategy for the future;
  2. To systematically review climate change policies fir West Africa, determine their implementation in Burkina Faso, and define key factors at different levels of the agricultural system that support the implementation;
  3. To identify viable passive housing adaptation technologies to reduce indoor heat with proven health benefits, and
  4. To develop heat action plans for communities and practitioners in Germany.     

MITIGATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND CO-BENEFITS

The mitigation of climate change constitutes one of the greatest opportunities for human health. When executed wisely, ambitious actions to combat climate change can bring along substantial health co-benefits. These include massive support of active transportation to reduce the risks for cardio-metabolic and respiratory diseases, and eating less ruminant meat, dairy products, and processed foods to lower the risks for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and colorectal cancer.

For low-income-countries, additional health co-benefits from climate change mitigation actions arise: Indoor air pollution due to cooking with charcoal kills 4 million people each year, mainly women and children. Several stove projects have been developed with mixed success to reduce toxic fumes from indoor cooking with biomass. In addition to health-damages, the smoke from cooking with biomass emits the highly climate-active short-lived pollutant “black carbon” or “soot”. Therefore, such mitigation measures seem promising to reduce emissions and at the same time save lives and improve health.

Therefore, we aim at identifying, evaluating and implementing strategies that mitigate climate change and confer health co-benefits. The specific objectives are:

  1. to establish the effectiveness of interventions that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote health outcomes;
  2. to identify barriers and motivators of behavioral change towards a sustainable livelihood;
  3. to develop solutions to decarbonize the health sector; and
  4. to determine health co-benefits due to positive framing of climate change mitigation in public communication.

Group Leader

PD, Dr. Ina Danquah

Robert Bosch Juniorprofessor for Sustainable Nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa Head, Research Group “Climate Change, Nutrition and Health” | Heidelberg Institute of Global Health (HIGH)

Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 130.3
69120 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 56-5038
Fax: +49 6221 56-5948

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