State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Global Nutrition Report Highlights Role of Climate

A woman weights her child with malnutrition in a clinic in North Darfur. Photo: Albert González Farran, UNAMID
A woman weights her child with malnutrition in a clinic in North Darfur. Photo: Albert González Farran, UNAMID

Climate change is complicating global efforts to end malnutrition, and even small seasonal fluctuations make a difference says a new report. 

According to the Global Nutrition Report  just released, there are actions leaders of every country should be taking to end malnutrition in all its forms.

Among the report’s key findings: One in three members of the global population is malnourished, and the problem exists in every country on the planet—yet the strategies available to resolve it are not being implemented due to lack of money, skills, or political pressure. Another finding is that climate change affects nutrition by influencing people’s food security, disease levels and patterns, water and sanitation environments, and choices about how to allocate time to their livelihoods and to caregiving.

Seasonal changes can have big impacts on food availability and disease patterns, and these in turn dramatically affect children’s survival and development. This means, for example, that babies born in India in November and December are taller on average at 3 years of age than those born in April through September.

Madeleine Thomson
Madeleine Thomson

“We wanted to highlight that it isn’t just about how climate will have an impact on nutrition in 50 years time, but on the way climate impacts nutrition today,” said Madeleine Thomson, from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Thomson was the lead author of the report’s chapter on the role of climate in global nutrition. “For the poorest communities, seasonal fluctuations in food access and drivers of infectious disease remain a reality and have a profound effect on nutrition,” said Thomson. “This vulnerability to weather cycles and climate phenomena such as El Niño is a stark indicator of the vulnerability of certain populations to the weather extremes that climate change could unleash.”

“When one in three of us is held back, we as families, communities and nations cannot move forward,” said Lawrence Haddad, lead author of the study and senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “This not only jeopardizes the lives of those who are malnourished, but also affects the larger framework for economic growth and sustainable development. Simply put: People cannot get anywhere near their full potential without first overcoming malnutrition.”

The report will be officially launched on Sept. 22 at an event in New York. More information can be found here:

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society is also a Collaborating Centre on Early Warning Systems for Malaria and other Climate-Sensitive Diseases for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. Learn more about its research on climate and public health.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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