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Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Aug 2;125(8):087002. doi: 10.1289/EHP41.

Estimated Effects of Future Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Protein Intake and the Risk of Protein Deficiency by Country and Region.

Author information

1
Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
2
Waitemata District Health Board , Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand.
3
Harvard University Center for the Environment , Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Crops grown under elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations (eCO2) contain less protein. Crops particularly affected include rice and wheat, which are primary sources of dietary protein for many countries.

OBJECTIVES:

We aimed to estimate global and country-specific risks of protein deficiency attributable to anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2050.

METHODS:

To model per capita protein intake in countries around the world under eCO2, we first established the effect size of eCO2 on the protein concentration of edible portions of crops by performing a meta-analysis of published literature. We then estimated per-country protein intake under current and anticipated future eCO2 using global food balance sheets (FBS). We modeled protein intake distributions within countries using Gini coefficients, and we estimated those at risk of deficiency from estimated average protein requirements (EAR) weighted by population age structure.

RESULTS:

Under eCO2, rice, wheat, barley, and potato protein contents decreased by 7.6%, 7.8%, 14.1%, and 6.4%, respectively. Consequently, 18 countries may lose >5% of their dietary protein, including India (5.3%). By 2050, assuming today's diets and levels of income inequality, an additional 1.6% or 148.4 million of the world's population may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of eCO2. In India, an additional 53 million people may become at risk.

CONCLUSIONS:

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions threaten the adequacy of protein intake worldwide. Elevated atmospheric CO2 may widen the disparity in protein intake within countries, with plant-based diets being the most vulnerable. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP41.

PMID:
28885977
PMCID:
PMC5783645
DOI:
10.1289/EHP41
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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