Successive generations of Indians have quibbled about the sliding quality of dana-pani (food-drink) and hawa-pani (air-water). Now, US-based scientists have proven that more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is indeed sapping the nutrient content of staple foods, leaving people less healthy. And they expect this situation to worsen.
India’s atmospheric CO2 level was recorded at 399 parts per million (ppm) in 2015, 14% higher than the 350 ppm threshold likely to trigger widespread climate change. By 2025, worldwide atmospheric CO2levels of 550 ppm are expected to become the norm.
Such high levels will strip wheat and rice of their protein, iron and zinc content, increasing the number of people at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, according to studies led by Samuel Myers, senior research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA.
The 5.3% drop in the protein content of wheat and rice expected by 2050 will put 53.4 million additional Indians at risk of protein deficiency, according to Myers’ newest study published in August 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
In India and globally, poor people who rely on cereals for their protein intake will face the biggest risk. Roughly 60% of the protein content in the average Indian diet comes from cereals.
Protein is a macronutrient comprised of different amino acids; its deficiency causes a host of diseases already common in India, ranging from stunting in children to cardiovascular disease in adults.
Another new paper from Myers, published in GeoHealth, predicts that less iron in wheat and rice grown in in India—which modelling studies show will diminish by 4.8% by 2050—will exacerbate iron deficiency in Indian children aged 1 to 5 years and women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years).
Insufficient iron is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world. Already, almost six in 10 Indians are anaemic, according to the World Health Organization. A similar number depend on wheat and rice for their iron intake.
|Expected Fall In Nutrient Level By 2050|
|Crop||Wheat||Rice||Modelled for||Number of Indians to be impacted|
|Iron||4.80%||4.80%||India||6 in 10 Indians anaemic, to worsen|
Source: Studies of Samuel Myers, others
Globally, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are also expected to shave off 9.1% and 3.1% of the zinc content of wheat and rice, respectively. In India, this will put nearly 48 million more Indians at risk of zinc deficiency, Myers concluded in his 2015 study.
More than one-third of the Indian population is zinc-deprived; seven in 10 Indians rely on wheat and rice for their zinc intake.
To safeguard the millions of Indians who depend on wheat and rice for their micronutrient intake, India must, at the very least, “step up dietary surveillance efforts to identify sub-populations who are not meeting their nutritional needs, and address culturally appropriate interventions to ensuring nutritional adequacy”, Myers said.