How Climate Change Affects Food Systems and Health in Africa

Jenn Hoskins
20th June, 2024

How Climate Change Affects Food Systems and Health in Africa

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study focused on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and examined how climate change impacts food systems and diet-related non-communicable diseases (DR-NCDs)
  • Higher temperatures can cause aflatoxins to grow in stored food, which are linked to liver cancer
  • Changes in rainfall patterns affect food production, leading to poor diets and increasing the risk of diabetes and obesity
Understanding the intricate relationship between climate change, food systems, and diet-related non-communicable diseases (DR-NCDs) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is crucial for public health. A recent scoping review by Tampere University aimed to shed light on this topic by investigating how climate change impacts food systems and, consequently, DR-NCDs in SSA[1]. Climate change is a pressing global issue, with multiple environmental changes such as temperature fluctuations, altered rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events. These changes significantly affect agricultural productivity and food security, which are directly linked to diet and health outcomes. In SSA, where the burden of both infectious and chronic diseases is already high[2], understanding these connections is vital for developing effective health interventions. The review conducted a comprehensive search across multiple databases, including ProQuest, Google Scholar, and PubMed, retrieving 19,125 studies. After stringent selection criteria, only 10 studies were included in the final analysis. These studies primarily employed cross-sectional designs, focusing on the effects of temperature and rainfall on food production and storage, and their subsequent impact on DR-NCDs such as liver cancer, diabetes, and obesity. One of the key findings was the association between temperature variations and liver cancer through food storage mechanisms. Higher temperatures can lead to the proliferation of aflatoxins in stored food, which are known carcinogens linked to liver cancer. Additionally, the review found that changes in rainfall patterns influence food production, which in turn affects the prevalence of diabetes and obesity. For instance, inconsistent rainfall can lead to food shortages or poor harvests, pushing communities towards less nutritious and more calorie-dense diets, thereby increasing the risk of these conditions. These findings align with earlier studies highlighting the increasing prevalence of NCDs in SSA due to demographic and epidemiological transitions[3]. The rise in NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers has been attributed to factors including urbanization, changes in diet, and lifestyle modifications[3][4]. Moreover, the review underscores the importance of integrating environmental health into public health strategies, as previously discussed in studies linking global environmental changes to NCD risks[4]. In South Africa, for example, healthcare providers have noted the rising prevalence of diet-related NCDs, driven by changing dietary patterns and inadequate health system responses[5]. This aligns with the review's findings that climate-induced food system disruptions could exacerbate DR-NCDs in SSA. The lack of connection between health and social services, as well as the shortage of dieticians, further complicates effective management of these diseases[5]. The review by Tampere University proposes a conceptual framework to guide future research on the interplay between climate change, food systems, and DR-NCDs in SSA. This framework emphasizes the need for a holistic approach that considers environmental, social, and health dimensions. It calls for more robust, longitudinal, and interventional studies to better understand these complex relationships and inform policy-making. In conclusion, the scoping review highlights the vulnerability of SSA's food systems to climate change and its subsequent impact on DR-NCDs. By integrating these findings with earlier research, it becomes evident that addressing climate change and its effects on food systems is critical for mitigating the rising burden of NCDs in SSA. Future research should focus on developing comprehensive strategies that encompass environmental health, food security, and public health interventions to tackle this multifaceted challenge.

EnvironmentHealthFitness And Diet


Main Study

1) Climate change-induced shifts in the food systems and diet-related non-communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review and a conceptual framework.

Published 18th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) Non-communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa: what we know now.

3) Burden of non-communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, 1990-2017: results from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.

4) Global Environmental Change and Noncommunicable Disease Risks.

5) Health care providers' perspectives of diet-related non-communicable disease in South Africa.

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