Expert opinion on Nutrition and Climate Change
March 25, 2021
In recent years, we have witnessed massive global transformations and are only beginning to understand the major contributors and complexities of climate change. In order to take effective action against any global crisis, groups must come together to share knowledge, efforts and resources. To raise awareness on how our food choices affect the planet, Physicians Association for Nutrition South Africa joined forces with Public Health Association for South Africa (PHASA) Special Interest Groups to deliver an online educational webinar titled, Nutrition and Climate Change in South Africa: Adapting to the Challenge.
The relationship between Nutrition and Climate Change
Physicians Association for Nutrition International (PAN) hosts VegMed, Europe’s largest medical congress on plant-based nutrition and healthcare. For the first time, #VegMed2021 was hosted online, of which an entire day of content was dedicated to the role of climate change and pandemics in healthcare.
In order to bring this important topic to the South African public, Physicians Association for Nutrition South Africa (PAN SA) collaborated with the Public Health Association for South Africa (PHASA) to present a free 90 minute live webinar with the title, Nutrition and Climate Change in South Africa: Adapting to the Challenge. This webinar is made possible through a collaboration between PHASA Special Interest Groups (SIG) Health Promotion, Nutrition and Climate, Energy & Health.
The CPD-Accredited webinar was attended by over 100 attendees, and participants were from all over the world, including South Africa, Mexico, Greece, China and Washington.
How do our dietary choices affect the planet?
Gidon Eshel, Research Professor of Environmental Physics at Bard College. Eshel studied physics and earth sciences at the Technion & Haifi University, Israel before getting an M.A., M.Phil., and a Ph.D. at Columbia University in mathematical geophysics. He is best known for his work on quantifying geophysical consequences of agriculture and diet.
Dietary choices have an enormous impact on the environment, and the magnitude of dietary changes are very hard to top in diet-unrelated personal decisions.
Land use is the most important impact, with half of global habitable land used for agriculture.
Agriculture completely dominates global water eutrophication.
A protein-rich plant-based diet is shown to be nutritionally superior with significantly less of an environmental impact, based on land use, water use and greenhouse gas emissions.
He concludes that the most impactful decision one could make is to eliminate beef from their diet.
How is climate change affecting food safety, exposure to pesticides and mycotoxins?
Dr Cliff Zinyemba holds a PhD in Public Health from the University of Cape Town. His PhD research focussed on characterising the relationship between climate change and agricultural use of, and exposure to endocrine disrupting pesticides. He is currently working as a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in the Department of Primary Health Care Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. He teaches “Introduction to Environmental Health” and “Climate Change and Health” in the Occupational and Environmental Health programme.
Climate Change is driving environmental changes that threaten food security and food safety.
Farmers are experiencing increased pest activity, leading to an adaptive increased use of pesticides. South Africa is the largest consumer of pesticides in Africa and pesticide residues are found in fruits, vegetables, cereals, grains, meat and milk products.
Climate also represents a key factor in driving mycotoxin contamination levels pre- and post-harvest.
What does obesity have to do with climate change?
Rachel Thompson has experience spanning international development, global health and food systems – the common thread being a commitment to promote equity in health and beyond. Rachel is currently a Policy Advisor at the World Obesity Federation, where she leads advocacy work with UN agencies to advance multi-sector action on malnutrition in all its forms.
Obesity is a global issue. In South Africa, rates are increasing with a significant gender gap. The prevalence of obesity is doubled in women, in comparison to men.
Recent research reveals that countries with a higher percentage of overweight are more likely to have a high COVID-19 death rate
The World Obesity Federation encourages “triple-duty” actions, which are policies that affect the global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition and climate change at the same time.
A multisystem approach considers health, food, transport, education, water and economics. Learn about the Word Obesity ROOTS framework.
An introduction to the role of a plant-based diet
Dr. Tushar Mehta studied at McMaster University and then completed medical school and residency at the University of Toronto. Currently, he practices Emergency Medicine and has also spent many years practicing Family Medicine and Addictions Medicine. Dr. Mehta also participates in international health projects, having volunteered on a yearly basis in rural India, and now doing work in Haiti.
Along with a small team, Dr. Mehta founded Plant Based Data, an online database which collects and organizes the most important academic and institutional literature regarding the impact of plant-based diet on health, environment and food security, including the role of animal agriculture in creating pandemics. The resource is free to access, and meant to assist others in their education, writing, advocacy and policy work.
There is a wealth of research available that reveals the clinical impacts of a whole food plant-based diet. Red and processed meat have the greatest health impact, fish and chicken have moderate health implications.
There is strong evidence for cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and moderate evidence for cancers.
Pandemics are a direct result of animal agriculture, eg. COVID-19, SARS, MERS, H1N1 Swine Flu, EBOLA..
How should South Africa respond to the challenge?
Professor Andrew Robinson, Chairman & Co-Founder of PAN-SA, Deputy Dean and Extraordinary Professor in the North West University Health Science Faculty.
Planetary boundaries have been reached, and we need to consider what is healthy for humans and the planet at the same time.
Health professionals should be receiving more education on nutrition, as well as the impacts of climate change.