Whilst the title seems somewhat gimmicky, this article raises an interesting issue – will climate change impact our weight and BMI? Even now the changing climate is impacting Australia’s produce and as the climate continues to change, it does pose the question of how greatly this will affect the availability of fruit and vegetables and what we will do about it.
Unfortunately, Australia already has soaring numbers of overweight and obese people – amongst the highest rates worldwide.
We all know what we should be eating to stay healthy: less fat and sugar, more fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein. Eating sustainably isn’t all that different. Stop eating so many of the cows that burp and fart methane into the atmosphere and try to eat more locally sourced, plant-based produce. The healthy living pyramid is more an aspiration than a reflection of reality.
Australia’s population will continue to increase and due to increasing temperatures and unreliable rainfall, the ability of land to grow fresh produce will diminish, which will therefore make it more expensive as less produce is available for the consumer. As a result, people may rely even more on processed and imported food items.
While the precise local impacts of climate change around Australia still present some uncertainties, it is looking likely that our suitable agricultural areas will shrink. This potentially will reduce the supply of local fresh produce, wheat and other grains. Warmer temperatures and increased atmospheric CO₂ can cause some plants to grow more quickly, but this may mean fewer micronutrients in each mouthful of fruit or vegetables. It also allows some of the weeds and pests to flourish.
Not only can increasing heats impact fresh produce but it can also pay a toll on the wellbeing of animals which may affect milk/egg supplies and meat production. Seafood may be a good alternative but even the marine environment can be subject to increasing ocean temperatures and therefore changes in environment. This can impact species – the number and distribution.
Greater reliance on global food systems means Australia’s food security becomes more precarious, increasingly subject to the whims of international markets. Our food also becomes potentially less safe: the more lengthy and complex the chain of supply, the more opportunities for contamination and the harder it becomes to trace the source – not to mention the greater food miles and added environmental pressures from transporting foods vast distances.
Unfortunately these changes will hit harder for those with less income to spare. Those with a healthier income will be able to afford the luxury of fresh fruit and vegetables, daily. Even now many people argue that fresh produce is too expensive to afford.
Time-poor low- and middle-income earners will face a tougher time. Processed foods are cheaper by the calorie, and a sugary, fatty muesli bar is sometimes easier to pack in a lunchbox than a bruise-prone banana or apple. People on lower incomes and with lower educational attainment are more likely to be overweight or obese. As accessibility and affordability of fresh food decline, this same group could be increasingly vulnerable to obesity and related health issues.
However, being aware of these future issues means that we can somewhat prepare and adapt to the changing climate. It would also help if Australians could reduce their food wastage, of which there are very high rates. Planning and organisation will result in less waste and less expense. The recent trend in selling the imperfect fruit and vegetables will also assist with affordability and availability.
It is not all doom and gloom, though, for Australia’s fresh food production. Australia is well known for its innovation and already farms are becoming more efficient at producing more food with less water and developing technologies to deal with increasing climate pressures. Some are already taking up the challenge to eat a healthier diet which is more sustainable.