Scientists warn of new health threat caused by global warming


Monash University researchers are warning that global warming is likely to increase illnesses caused by undernutrition, due to the effects of heat exposure. While it’s well-documented that global warming will indirectly result in more undernourished people through threatened crop production and increased food insecurity, this world-first study analysed the link between heat exposure and increased undernourishment illness. The researchers, led by Yuming Guo, Associate Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, analysed daily hospitalisation data covering almost 80 per cent of Brazil between 2000 and 2015. They studied the link between daily mean temperatures and hospitalisation for undernourishment according to the International Classification of Diseases. The researchers found that for every 1°C increase in daily mean temperature during the hot season, there was a 2.5 per cent increase in the number of hospitalisations for undernutrition. “The association between increased heat and hospitalisation for undernutrition was greatest for individuals aged over 80, and those 5 to 19 years,” the researchers found. “We estimated that 15.6 per cent of undernutrition hospitalisations could be attributed to heat exposure during the study period.” The study says increased heat may cause illness through undernourishment in a number of ways:

  • Reducing appetites

  • Provoking more alcohol consumption

  • Reducing motivation or ability to shop and cook

  • Exacerbate any undernutrition, resulting in hospitalisation

  • Worsen a person’s already impaired digestion and absorption by increasing gastrointestinal morbidity

  • Impair thermoregulation

The study, published today in PLOS Medicine

/Public Release.