There is broad scientific consensus that the earth’s climate is warming, the process is accelerating, and that human activities are very likely the main cause. Children are often most vulnerable to adverse health effects from environmental hazards because they are not fully developed physically and psychologically.
A new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) technical report and policy statement, “Global Climate Change and Children’s Health,” outlines the specific ways global climate change impacts child health, and calls on pediatricians to understand the threats to children, anticipate the impact on children’s health, and advocate for strategies that will lessen the effects.
Direct health impacts from global warming include injury and death from more frequent extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and tornados. For children, this can mean post-traumatic stress, loss of caregivers, disrupted education and displacement. Increased climate-sensitive infectious diseases, air pollution-related illness, and heat-related illness and fatalities also are expected.
As the climate changes, the earth’s geography also will change, leading to a host of health risks for kids. Disruptions in the availability of food and water and the displacement of coastal populations can cause malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies and waterborne illness, the statement said.
“This is a call for us to look at how climate change may be impacted by what we do as an organization, what we do in our personal business and what we do in our home life,” said Helen J. Binns, MD, MPH, FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Environmental Health.
The statement encourages pediatricians to be role models for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions by making small changes such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, reducing thermostat settings in the winter and increasing settings in the summer, and using cars less. Pediatricians should make sure their patients understand the air quality index, pollen counts and UV measures used in most metropolitan areas. These conversations can be opportunities to introduce the broader issue of climate change and the importance of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The statement also advises pediatricians to advocate and support policies that strengthen public transportation, expand green spaces and reward energy efficiency. It’s also crucial that children are given specific attention in emergency and disaster response planning.
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