Australia

Climate change could be making us fatter, dumber and more depressed: report

Increasing temperatures could lead to higher rates of obesity. Source: AAP

A new report has found climate change is having some unexpected consequences for people living in the Asia Pacific region.

While it's often reported that climate change is affecting the health of our planet, a new report charting the effects of climate change across the Asia Pacific region has found it is also having an effect on the health of the population.

The study from Global Health Alliance Australia (GHAA) outlined a series of areas where the health of the region's population was being affected by changes to the climate, including reduced IQs in the children of people who have survived natural disasters, malnutrition due to declining crops and death from heatwaves.

The report, published this week, also pointed to increased rates of obesity as a potential unexpected consequence of climate change, with rising temperatures leading to reduced rates of physical activity.

People living in rural Australia are particularly susceptible to increased rates of mental illness due to the effects of climate change.
People living in rural Australia are particularly susceptible to increased rates of mental illness due to the effects of climate change.
AAP

"Some by-products of fossil fuels also produce endocrine-disrupting chemicals that modify the microbial content of the gut," the report added.

"When this occurs in women, especially during pregnancy, this can change the precursors of adipocytes [fat-storing cells] during fetal development."

According to the report, rural Australians are particularly vulnerable to health effects of climate change, with a reduction in agricultural productivity due to weather leading to increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide in these communities.

Alongside rural Australians, women, children, Indigenous people and disabled people were also identified as groups who were particularly at risk. 

In the case of children, the report said there is growing evidence from women who have experienced extreme weather events, like floods, bushfires, droughts and cyclones, while they were pregnant that suggests their children also experience adverse consequences - including when it comes to their cognitive and language development.

"The presumed mechanism is stress hormones crossing the placenta and producing adverse effects on the foetus’s neurocognitive development," the report states.

As part of the study, the GHAA devised a nine-point plan aimed at reducing the health impacts of climate change.

These recommendations include recognising the health impacts of climate change, introducing training programs for health professionals on how to adapt to the changing health effects and devising an implementation agenda for reducing the impact.

Authors of the report, GHAA executive director Misha Coleman and professor of planetary health at the University of Sydney Anthony Capon said "primary prevention" of health effects should be the "top priority".

"In the case of climate change, this means climate change mitigation to avoid potentially unmanageable health impacts," the report read.

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