Climate Crisis Causes Deaths, Stunting and Malnutrition and It’s Going to Get Much Worse, New Report Says
A bleak new report highlights how the climate crisis is responsible for deaths and will cause more in the coming decades, along with malnutrition, stunted growth and lower IQs in children directly impacted by the crisis, as the Guardian reported.
The policy report From Townsville to Tuvalu produced by Global Health Alliance Australia in partnership with Monash University in Melbourne looked at how the climate crisis will affect the Asia Pacific Region, the effect it has already had and it makes recommendations for what the Australian government can do to mitigate its impact.
"There are absolutely people dying climate-related deaths, [especially due to] heat stress right now," said Misha Coleman, executive director of Global Health Alliance Australia, to the Guardian. "During the Black Saturday fires [in Victoria in 2009] for example, we know that people were directly killed by the fires, but there were nearly 400 additional deaths in those hot days from heat stress and heatstroke."
It has also seen a cognitive effect on children who experienced extreme weather events in utero. For example, children born to women who were pregnant during 2011 flooding in Brisbane had, on average, lower IQs, smaller vocabularies and less imagination than their peers at age two.
As the world deals with higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses, the nutritional values of staple crops will decline, leading to stunting, anemia and malnutrition in children, within 10 to 20 years, according to the Guardian.
"What's the future for our children?" said Coleman to the Guardian. "These events are more common, more frequent and not going to become less so in a short amount of time."
The researchers behind the report looked at nearly 120 peer-reviewed articles to piece together the impact the climate crisis will have on the region. The paper pointed out that the spread of rare tropical diseases might become prevalent as the diseases find favorable conditions in Australia, such as the Nipah virus, a bat-borne disease that causes fatal infections in humans and pigs in South East Asia.
The paper also warns that the Australian health care system will be overwhelmed if climate refugees seek help there because nearby countries have inadequate healthcare systems to handle a spike in sickness due to a climate emergency.
The report highlighted a 2018 paper put out by the World Health Organization that predicted "between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from heat stress, malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea," according to the report. It pointed that the various consequences of the climate crisis will not create new diseases, but will amplify existing ones and overburden health care systems.
The Global Health Alliance Australia paper leaned heavily on the WHO's categories of health risks from the climate crisis, which are:
• Direct impacts from the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather
• Environmentally mediated impacts, including air pollution, less fresh water and changing patterns of disease
• Socially mediated impacts, including undernutrition, mental illness, population displacement and poverty.
The second two bullet points are the insidious dangers that Global Health Alliance Australia says the Australian government should prepare for.
"Severe weather events are causing flooding, particularly in informal settlements in the Pacific, that leads to diseases including diarrhea, that can be very serious and fatal in people, particularly children," said John Thwaites, chair of the Sustainable Development Institute at Monash University, as the Guardian reported.
In addition to Nipah virus, the report warned that mosquitos would spread dengue, chikungunya and zika, as the global temperatures warm and mosquito populations expand their reach. In fact, Q fever is already prevalent in Townsville, a city in northeastern Queensland.
"Q fever is something that is carried by a lot of wild and domesticated animals," said Coleman to the Guardian. "As climate change degrades their habitat through fires and drought, these animals go looking for green grass and fresh water [and] they find themselves on golf courses and on retirees' two-acre blocks."
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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