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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard Finds Human-wrought Environmental Changes Impacting Crops and Could Harm Health of Millions

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 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 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.

The study about pollinators appeared in The Lancet; the study about zinc appeared in Lancet Global Health. Both studies were published July 16 in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health report, Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch, which broadly assesses the scale of the threats to health, development, and civilization posed by the multiplicity of environmental changes brought on by human activity.

“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 Dr. Samuel Myers, 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. Read more