Exploring the Intricate Link between Climate Change and Obesity
India has great disparities when it comes to food access: while 194 million people go hungry to bed daily, another 30 million are battling obesity. And now, a new challenge has been added to the mix: climate change.
Rising temperatures, variable rainfall, extreme weather events and loss of agricultural land due to droughts and floods are impacting food production, availability and access around the world. A 2011 FAO report quotes research predicting a 20% increase in global child malnutrition, compared to a world not weighed down by the burden of climate change.
Undernutrition and obesity are two forms of malnutrition. Severe food insecurity is associated with lower obesity prevalence, but mild to moderate food insecurity is, paradoxically, associated with higher obesity prevalence among vulnerable populations living on marginal-quality diets and ultra-processed food products.
“Undernutrition in early life increases the risk of adult obesity,” says Dr Shifalika Goenka of the Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). Dr. Goenka is a Commissioner with the Lancet Commission on Obesity, which recently issued a report titled ‘The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change’.
The word ‘syndemic’ here means a set of linked health problems—in this case obesity, under-nutrition and climate change—which exacerbates the burden of disease in a population.