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Human-wrought environmental changes impacting crops and pollinators could harm health of millions

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Changing environmental conditions around the globe caused by human activity could negatively impact the health of millions of people by altering the amount and quality of key crops, according to two new studies from our affiliated faculty member, Samuel Myers.

One study found that decreasing numbers of food pollinators such as bees—falling in part due to pesticide use and destruction of habitats—could lead to declines in nutrient-rich crops that have been linked with staving off disease. A second study found that increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) could lead to lower levels of zinc in food and thus to greatly expanded zinc deficiency.

“This is the first time that the global health community has come out in a concerted way to report that we are in real danger of undermining the core ecological systems that support human health,” said Myers, a senior research scientist in the Harvard Chan School’s Department of Environmental Health, who is senior author of the pollinator study and lead author of the zinc study.

“All of human civilization has taken place during a very stable set of biophysical conditions, but we are now changing those conditions at a rate that’s never been seen before,” Myers explained. “Whether we’re talking about land use, deforestation, degradation of global fisheries, disruption of the climate system, biodiversity loss, appropriation of fresh water, changes to aquatic systems—all of the changes are profound and they’re accelerating, and they represent a significant challenge to global health.”

Learn more about the studies on the Harvard Chan School's website.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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