Nutritional and Health Benefits of Increasing Insect Consumption in Africa and Asia

PHaJI Author: Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH

Most global dietary forecasts predict a reduction in nutritional deficiencies over the next several decades driven by significant increases in environmentally unsustainable livestock and animal source food consumption. Here, we explore a more environmentally sensitive alternative to improve global nutrition, consuming insects. Our study focuses on Africa and Asia, two continents with a history of eating insects and high rates of nutritional deficiency. We model the impact of adding modest amounts (2.5, 5 and 10 g per day, dry weight) of regionally appropriate and farmable species on total nutrient intake and population-wide risk of deficiency for specific nutrients of concern: protein, zinc, folate, and vitamin B12. We also estimate the total potential change in dietary iron. Five grams per day of insect consumption could alleviate a considerable amount of risk of nutritional deficiency: 67 million (95% uncertainty interval: 49–84 million) fewer people at risk of protein deficiency, 166 million (120–220 million) fewer people at risk of zinc deficiency, 237 million (120–439 million) fewer people at risk of folate deficiency, and 251 million (28–2271) fewer people at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. For iron, per capita supplies could increase by 3% (0.8%–6.0%) with insects, and even more so for vulnerable groups in countries currently suffering severe rates of anemia: 4.2% (0.5%–8.8%) for women of childbearing age and 4.1% (0.4%–10.0%) for children under 5. Doubling or halving insect intake per capita causes the benefits for nutritional deficiency risk to roughly double or halve accordingly. Effects are most pronounced in South and Central Asia, though sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia also see considerable reduction in nutritional risk. These results demonstrate the potential for insects to fill a crucial role in providing nutrition for these populous and rapidly developing regions while safeguarding the global environment.

Smith MR, Stull VJ, Patz JA, Myer SS. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Increasing Insect Consumption in Africa and Asia. 2021. Environmental Research Letters 16, 065001.