Christopher Duggan, MD, MPH: Climate Change's Effect on Gastric, Digestive Health

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An interview regarding the current impacts of environmental health on food availability, nutrition, and more.

The impact of climate change on individual health is multifactorial, multisystemic, and in many cases, progressive in nature. In matters of digestive and gastric health, its effects are already well observed among individuals—and it could get worse. Clinicians and caregivers, along with community and public health leadership, will continue to need to adapt their messaging and strategies to aide those whose nutrition, food availability and overall health are affected by environmental changes.

In an interview with HCPLive during the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) 2023 Annual Meeting in San Diego this week, Christopher Duggan, MD, MPH, the Samuel J. Meltzer MD Professor of Pediatrics in the Field of Gastroenterology, Pediatrics-Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, discussed his presentation on the effects of climate change on food and nutrition.

HCPLive: When we talk about climate change, what are the specific effects that which are affecting our food availability and nutrition?

Duggan: Greenhouse gas accumulation and resultant climate change negatively impact food availability by affecting rainfall variability; drought; extreme weather events; crop yield; and reduced micronutrient contents of foods.

HCPLive: Can you highlight any key regions or populations in the US that are being most impacted already by climate change-impacted food availability?

Duggan: Marginalized populations throughout the US are already plagued by food insecurity, and any increase in commodity prices due to climate change and extreme weather events places them at higher risk of poor diet quality, chronic inflammation, obesity and undernutrition.

HCPLive: What do your peers in gastric and hepatic disease intervention need to understand about the clinical manifestations of this issue?

Duggan: Most pediatric GI physicians understand well the relationship between food and water safety and the higher risk for gastrointestinal and other infectious diseases affecting many of the world’s children. What more need to appreciate is the role of food systems globally in contributing to greenhouse gas production, the inequitable affect of climate changes on poorer countries (and poorer populations in these countries), and the role of drought and rainfall variability on child growth patterns.

HCPLive: Are there any public health or environment health-related strategies in place or in development that you would highlight as a model for communities to follow for curbing the impact of climate change on food?

Duggan: The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, held on September 28, 2022, included the release of the Biden administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health with a stated goal to end hunger, and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. More effort needs to be undertaken to recognize the effect that food systems (food production, handling, transportation, consumer behavior, etc.) has on the environment, as well as the relationship of climate change to food and national security.

Pediatricians are natural advocates for issues of relevance to public health, and should get involved locally, regionally and nationally to advocate for policies that reduce the impact of human activities on the climate.