Climate change, obesity and starvation: a synergy of pandemics

More and more people are becoming convinced that climate change is a problem of catastrophic proportions. Predictions of an uninhabitable earth in the near future are therefore leading to climate strikes all over the world.



The Lancet has recently reported that the world is in fact experiencing a syndemic – that is, “a synergy of pandemics that co-occur”. The three related pandemics of climate change, obesity and starvation are said to represent “the paramount challenge for humans, the environment and our planet”. Fear of the effects of climate change is even affecting people’s mental health. The FCI has touched on these themes by showing how citizenship is relevant for combatting climate change, for example in the form of ecomodernist citizenship, and how austerity measures may violate the right to food.


The Lancet study shows that while more than 2 billion children and adults are overweight or obese, another two billion are suffering health problems because of malnutrition. World hunger has been increasing in the last few years and this will likely worsen due to food shortages caused by climate change. The study refers to several projections on the major human health effects related to climate change that predict “increasing food insecurity and undernutrition among vulnerable populations in many low and middle income countries due to crop failures, reduced food production, extreme weather events that produce droughts and flooding, increased food­borne and other infectious diseases, and civil unrest”. The costs of obesity are staggering and are estimated “at about $2 trillion annually from direct health­care costs and lost economic productivity. These costs represent 2.8% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and are roughly the equivalent of the costs of smoking or armed violence and war”.


The report argues that the three pandemics can only be tackled collectively, but that they happen because misplaced economic incentives, powerful vested interests, policy inertia and insufficient demand for change from the public. Against the backdrop of our previous post on indigenous citizenship, it was also interesting to see how the report recommends bringing indigenous and traditional knowledge to the effort of solving The Global Syndemic “because this knowledge is often based on principles of environmental stewardship, collective responsibilities, and the interconnectedness of people with their environments”.

Another proposal is “the use of international human rights law and to apply the concept of a right to wellbeing, which encompasses the rights of children and the rights of all people to health, adequate food, culture, and healthy environments”. These rights are laid down in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the occasion of its 70th anniversary we investigated the relevance of this document for a 21st century society that is facing problems that could not be imagined seventy years ago, including digitalization and surveillance as well as animal rights.


Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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