Climate and Nutrition

How does climate variability influence food availability, nutrition and disease patterns in a drought-prone area in Ethiopia

Background: Climate variability includes all the variations in the climate that last longer than individual weather events. In contrast, climate change refers to those variations that persist for a more extended period, typically decades or more.

Our research views climate change and variability as stress multipliers to a range of known and unknown factors that indirectly or directly affect nutrition and health. Analysing relationships between temperature and precipitation based on knowledge of the aetiology of diseases might shed light on how much climate variability may influence future illness loads.

Adaptation refers to changes in processes, practices and structures to moderate potential damages or benefit from climate change opportunities, and our research aims to enhance our understanding of these processes and thus improve the livelihoods of people living in such areas.

The challenge of working in countries such as Ethiopia is the need for long-term data. We have collected data for almost a decade, and this group aims to acquire climate, nutrition and health data in the coming years. The links between climate, nutrition and health represent multidisciplinary science.

Malnutrition is a challenge to the health and productivity of populations and is viewed as one of the five main adverse health impacts of climate change. Although much is known about the association between climate variations, food production, nutrition and health, few studies have used primary data to investigate the impact on nutrition and health that can be attributed to climate or weather variability. We, therefore, need to figure out how data from long-term, environmental and climate information, nutritional, socioeconomic, health, and demographic information can validate causal links, quantify impacts, and make reliable predictions that can guide evidence-based interventions in the future.

One particular focus is on rural women. They are involved in different activities throughout the year, and household food insecurity, dietary diversity, food frequency, and their health status and nutrition determine their activity level.  On the other hand, nutritional status affects work capacity and health. Improving women’s working capacity will help ensure food availability in the house and improve the nutritional status of the household.

Another focus of our research is on child growth. The conventional indices (attained growth), including stunting, wasting and underweight, are widely used references of child growth and show cumulative effects of all events in the past. Although these growth references are essential indicators of nutritional status, one cannot take timely corrective action before the occurrence of undernutrition. Growth velocity measures such as height and weight velocity can be a more valuable tool for the early identification of growth faltering and detecting subtle changes related to nutrition inadequacy and infection.

Satellite data is highly valuable across various fields, including epidemiology. Some relevant uses for our research include mapping natural resources that have occurred in the past, such as water resources and agricultural land. We will use publicly available satellite information to get information about weather forecasting, the monthly occurrence of water bodies, humidity and vegetation. Such information will be linked to household nutrition and disease data, including malaria. This will enable us to link field data to reliable and validated environmental details.

Our research is an example of a finer-scale community-level study, which is important for comprehending underlying mechanisms and application to vulnerable populations.

Objectives: The overall aim is to advance the provision and use of climate services for interventions that enhance rural nutritional security and health outcomes in the face of climate risks prone to climate-driven health, nutrition and food security.

Specifically, we aim to

  • Show the relationship between household food insecurity, wealth, nutritional status, illness and level of physical activity among adolescent and adult women during different seasons.
  • Describe the pattern and seasonal variability of growth velocity among young children.
  • Analyse the potential association between the availability of water bodies, humidity, vegetation coverage and malaria.
  • To assess available weather forecasting data on household food insecurity and the occurrence of diseases.

Method: A dynamic cohort study will be conducted in nine randomly selected kebeles of Boricha district, Sidama Region kebeles, from June 2021 to March 2024. Pretested and structured questionnaires will be used to gather information about sociodemographic variables, wealth index, household dietary diversity, household food security, adult working capacity, and morbidity patterns using the Kobo Toolbox. Standard multivariable methods for cohort studies shall be used, and the necessary assumptions of the model will be checked. In addition to multilevel mixed effect linear regression analysis, we will employ modelling software for growth curve analysis, such as the R programming language with the Sitar package.

Data on the availability of weather forecasting, water bodies, humidity and vegetation coverage will be downloaded from publicly available sources ( Landsat 8 dataset).

The researchers include Associate Professor Taye Gari, Bethelhem Mezgebe (PhD student), Dawit Jember (PhD student) and Professor Bernt Lindtjørn. Two master students will also be attached to this research.