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Biodiversity & Environment

Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels & Zinc Deficiency

  • 20 Apr 2019
  • 5 min read

Rising carbon dioxide levels can accelerate zinc deficiency in crops and thus in human consumption, according to a new study titled ‘Inadequate zinc intake in India: Past, Present and Future’ by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

  • Food crops such as wheat, rice, barley, soya, and field peas, which serve as an important source of dietary zinc for billions of people around the world, have recently been shown to contain lower concentrations of zinc and other nutrients when grown under open field conditions.
  • The study states that inadequate zinc intake has been rising in India for decades, causing tens of millions of people to become newly deficient in it.
    • The highest rate of inadequate zinc intake was concentrated mainly in the southern and northeastern States with rice-dominated diets: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya.
    • The national rates of inadequate zinc intake has increased from 17% to 25% between 1983 and 2012.
    • Rising carbon dioxide levels in the coming decades could accelerate this trend.
  • Apart from rising CO2 emissions, changing diets and an aging population are also seen as factors responsible for increasing zinc deficiency.
    • Overall urban populations, and wealthier urban groups in particular, showed higher rates of inadequate intake as well, due to a higher proportion of nutrient-poor fats and sugars in the diet.

Zinc Deficiency

  • Zinc supports cell function, helping an estimated 100 enzymes perform their duties. It plays additional roles in the body, including:
    • boosting immune function,
    • helping cells divide,
    • maintaining the sense of smell and taste,
    • promoting wound healing,
    • Zinc also supports a person's growth and development. As such, it is an essential mineral for pregnant women as well as growing children.
  • Human body does not store zinc, which means getting enough of the mineral from food is important in preventing a deficiency.
  • Inadequate zinc intake can have serious health consequences, particularly for young children, who are more susceptible to contracting malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, when suffering from zinc deficiency.
    • The presence of zinc plays a critical role in human immune systems.
  • National grain fortification programmes, increased dietary diversity, bio-fortified crops, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions could make a difference to slow or reverse the course.

Food fortification

  • Food fortification refers to the process of adding essential micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, to food staples to make them more nutritious.
  • Food fortification is an effective strategy to meet the nutritional needs of a large number of people across various sections of the society, including the poor and underprivileged as well as the vulnerable, such as pregnant women and young children.
  • Common micronutrients deficient in Indian diets are iron, iodine, vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
  • Fortification of Vanaspati with Vitamin A and D started more than 50 years ago and has been mandatory in the country since 1953.
  • The tremendous success of salt iodization programme signifies the potential of food fortification.
    • Salt iodization in India started with the National Goiter Control Programme in 1962. It gained momentum in 1980s and mandated the distribution of iodized salt in 1997. Voluntary wheat flour fortification were notified in 1970s.
  • Article 47 of the Constitution documents that it is duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
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