The study suggests that the decline in pollinating insects is responsible for the premature death of 500,000 people a year. This impact is due to the lower availability and increased cost of healthy foods such as nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
The researchers say their estimates are conservative. The researchers arrived at this estimate using an earlier study from 2016, which identified insufficient pollination as responsible for around a quarter of the global agricultural production yield gap.
This study tracked 344 crop fields and 33 insect pollinators and found that lack of pollination caused a sizeable portion of the yield gap.
The researchers note that the current health impacts of insufficient pollination are comparable to other significant global risk factors, such as interpersonal violence, prostate cancer, and substance use disorders.
Global pollinator decline linked to premature deaths
The researchers used farm data to identify the decline in crop yields caused by a lack of pollinators. They estimated that the world is currently losing 4.7% of total fruit production, 3.2% of vegetable production and 4.7% of nut production.
Using an economic model, the researchers assessed how these losses would affect diets globally. Finally, they used well-known data on how reducing the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts affects health to estimate the number of premature deaths.
The study found that middle-income countries such as India, China, Indonesia and Russia experienced the most significant impact, as heart disease, stroke and cancer were already prevalent due to poor diets, smoking and low levels of exercise.
In the richer nations, more people could still afford healthy food, even if prices increased due to lower production, but the poorest of these countries would still suffer.
Previous research by the same team indicated that health effects in one country were primarily due to the loss of pollinators in that country, rather than in other countries from which food was imported.
The countries with the largest reductions in crop yields due to insufficient wild pollinators were low-income nations. While food production would benefit from better wild pollination, people’s health would suffer less from existing lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
Study highlights impact of pollinator decline
Using 2016 data on insufficient pollination, the research team estimated that the global decline in pollinators led to a 4.7% reduction in fruit and nut production and a 3.2% reduction in vegetable production.
They then investigated what the world would be like if these pollinators were still around, considering where the extra yield would end up, how it would affect prices, and how consumption of these foods would affect global and national health.
Lead author Matthew Smith, a researcher in the Harvard Department of Environmental Health, said the team estimated the potential health benefits of consuming more of these healthy foods based on strong epidemiological research linking increased intake of fruits, vegetables, and walnuts with lower mortality rates from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
Habitat loss is the main reason for pollinator declines, and pesticide use and climate change also contribute to the problem.
Although many animals are pollinators, including mammals, birds, and even some reptiles, this study focused on insect pollinators, which account for the vast majority of pollinators in the human diet.
Manu Saunders, an entomologist at the University of New England in Australia who was not involved in the study, stressed that the many ways in which declining biodiversity affects human health and food availability are important areas of knowledge that are often overlooked. overlooked in discussions of declining biodiversity.
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