Unveiling air pollution-related health inequality in China’s food system

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Zheng, Lianming
Adalibieke, Wulahati
Zhou, Feng
He, Pan
Chen, Yilin
Guo, Peng
He, Jinling
Zhang, Yuanzheng
Xu, Peng
Wang, Chen
Ye, Jianhuai
Zhu, Lei
Shen, Guofeng
Fu, Tzung-May
Yang, Xin
Zhao, Shunliu
Hakami, Amir
Russell, Armistead G.
Tao, Shu
Meng, Jing
Shen, Huizhong
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Food consumption contributes to the degradation of air quality in regions where food is produced, giving rise to an often-neglected form of environmental inequality, i.e., the contrast between the environmental health burden caused by the food consumption of a specific population and that they encounter as a consequence of food production activities. Herein, we explore this inequality within China’s food system, by linking air pollution–related health burden from the production side to the consumption side at high levels of spatial and sectorial granularity. Our findings reveal that low-income groups bear a 70% higher air pollution-related health burden from the food production than is caused by their food consumption, while high-income groups benefit from a 29% lower health burden relative to their food consumption. This discrepancy can be primarily attributed to the significant concentration of the low-income population residing in food production areas, thereby exposing them to higher emissions from agricultural activities. Our study indicates that comprehensive interventions targeting both production and consumption sides can effectively reduce health damages and concurrently mitigate associated inequalities, while singular interventions exhibit limited efficacy. This emphasizes the need for a combination of measures to establish a sustainable and equitable food system.
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