Should healthcare professionals educate the public about climate change?
According to the World Health Organisation, climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year. Contributing to food poverty, malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress alone in 2030-2050. The climate crisis impacts on future generations and is a public health emergency that is already causing deaths and suffering around the world. Climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
The impact of climate change on health means that this is a crucial touchpoint to the public where climate education could take place. This can complement advice on sustainable diets such as eating seasonal produce, eating a variety of plant-based proteins (e.g beans, peas and tofu) and local meat-based proteins (e.g chicken, beef, fish), and reducing food waste. Alongside supporting physical activity recommendations by running, walking or biking where possible, improvement in air quality and improved access to nature.
We have action in place across the health system. The NHS has clear targets for climate action (highlighted in the 2020 ‘Delivering a Net Zero NHS Report’) and most nhs trusts have sustainability and environmental groups responsible for achieving these climate ambitions. A few examples include Manchester University NHS Foundation trust encouraging staff to undertake sustainable travel initiatives with 40% using more sustainable transport compared to 2013 numbers. Frome Medical practice has been recognised as one of leading gp practices in the country for addressing sustainability through their work in supporting the community to make healthy and sustainable decisions with training “green community connectors” who proactively encourage the public to learn how to reduce their own carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere because of our activities), alongside other measures. The climate emergency is a health emergency and action will have huge benefits for the public.
Sense of taste
The human tongue is wrapped in taste buds (papillae). The small, mushrooms shaped bumps located in the tip of the tongue contain receptors which bind to the molecules from your food and work with your brain to identify what you are eating. Taste perception occurs when certain compounds released in the food are dissolved in saliva. This is delivered as the 5 taste types- sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami.
Our senses come together during our eating and drinking experience, allowing us to combine sight, smell and flavour to perceive taste and temperature and texture can impact our experience of the food or drink. This means that losing any of our senses, particularly smell or taste, can reduce our enjoyment of the food or drink. If you have experienced a cold, flu or covid-19, you may have experienced a reduced appetite, lower enjoyment of food and overall reduced consumption of food due to lack of satisfaction.
A similar phenomenon occurs as we age. The way we perceive taste starts to change when we hit 60 years old and our sense of smell sensitivity starts to diminish from around 70 years old. Changes occur inside our mouth, impacting taste as there are structural changes in the taste papillae. Alongside these changes, poor oral health and/or dentures can result in poor chewing habits. This reduces contact levels of the sensory receptors in the taste buds and alongside reduced saliva secretion due to ageing, means that there is reduced liquid to carry food compounds to our tastebuds causing taste to be poorly received.
However, not everyone’s sense of taste will decline in the same way. Our age, gender and lifestyle will have an impact e.g if we smoked, ate a healthy diet and followed an active lifestyle.
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