Pediatricians Call Climate Change a Rising Children's Health Threat
AAP report says children are "uniquely vulnerable" to the hazards of global warming
What does a 9-year-old diagnosed with Lyme disease in Maine have in common with a 17-year-old athlete rushed to the ER with heat exhaustion in August — or a girl with severe allergies who has an asthma attack in May?
Climate change, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
“These children’s conditions seemingly are unrelated,” writes Samanta Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, of the academy. “Yet they share an underlying association with the rising public health threat presented by climate change.”
Ahdoot is a lead author of “Global Climate Change and Child Health,” an AAP report and policy statement that will appear in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.
“The planet is, unequivocally, warming,” says Ahdoot. "This warming is associated with a worldwide shrinkage of glaciers and decreased snow cover, sea level rise, more frequent and prolonged heat waves, increased heavy [rainfall], and more frequent and severe wildfires.”
What does this mean for our children?
First, children are “uniquely vulnerable” to health threats caused by global warning, according to the AAP. More than 88 percent of diseases linked to climate change occur in children younger than 5 years old. Children are at higher risk of injury, death or being separated from their parents or other caregivers during natural disasters, and they're more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and heat-related illness. “Worsening heat waves threaten children, particularly high school athletes and young infants, with increasing heat illness,” Ahdoot notes.
Kids also are more vulnerable to worsening air quality linked to climate change. Greater pollen concentrations, a longer allergy season, wildfire smoke and increases in ozone can all trigger asthma attacks and allergic disease, the report notes. "Climate warming has been linked to northern expansion of Lyme disease in North America, putting more American children at risk of this disease," Ahdoot says.
In addition, climate-linked catastrophes like droughts, famines and mass migrations all strike at the heart of children’s physical and mental health, the authors say. They add that shrinking biodiversity and rising sea levels threaten many communities, especially in poorer regions.
The report authors say we can help prevent the most severe effects by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The AAP urges pediatricians to:
- Discuss climate change and health with their patients
- Encourage children to walk or bike as much as possible (“What’s good for the climate is also good for children,” the authors say).
- Prepare children for natural disasters, using the AAP Children and Disasters site as a guide
- Reduce the carbon footprint of clinics and hospitals
Concerned about climate change’s impact on your children? You may want to check out an international coalition of parents and grandparents called Our Kids Climate. So far the group has attracted 14 organizations representing 800,000 people around the world to press for climate change solutions.
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