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NEWS / Climate risk to child health is very real say US paediatricians
Category: Government & Policy, Health & Pharmaceuticals

Image: Babies and small infants are especially suseptable to health implications of climate change according to a report released by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP): Public Domain image.
By Maya Sanchez

Children are disproportionately at risk from the impacts of climate change. This is the conclusion of a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP).  The launch of the report was followed by a policy statement urging decision-makers to take action on climate risk to infants and young children.

"Children are uniquely at risk from the direct impacts of climate change… including floods and storms… where they are exposed to increased risk of injury, death, loss of or separation from caregivers and mental health consequences," explained Samantha Ahdoot, MD, lead author of the policy statement.

"They are also more vulnerable to the secondary impacts of global warming, like disease. For example, Lyme disease affects approximately 300,000 Americans each year, with boys, ages 5 to 9, at greatest risk. Climate warming has been linked to northern expansion of Lyme disease in North America, putting more American children at risk of this disease."

The policy statement "Global Climate Change and Children's Health” says that children are particularly exposed to climate impacts, in part due to their dependence on their caregivers. Children are also more sensitive to secondary impacts of climate disasters, such as the spread of infectious diseases.

A World Health Organisation estimate reveals that more than 88 percent of the current disease burden linked to climate change occurs in children younger than 5 years old. This clearly indicates that children suffer disproportionately from climate-sensitive diseases.

The report states that with climate change, infant heat-related deaths are predicted to increase by 5.5 per cent by the end of the 21th Century. But climate risk to children’s physical health is only one part of the picture. The AAP also suggest that rates of physiological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder are also set to rise in the wake of climate-related natural catastrophes.

The AAP technical report reviews the latest scientific evidence linking climate change to child health, development, wellbeing and nutrition. Highlights include:

  • Infants less than one year of age are uniquely vulnerable to heat-related mortality, with one study projecting an increase in infant heat-related deaths by 5.5 percent in females and 7.8 percent in males by the end of the 21st Century.

  • Climate influences a number of infectious diseases that affect children across the world, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Chikungunya, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, diarrheal illness, Amebic Meningoencephalitis and Coccidioidomycosis.

  • The number of deaths in American high school and college football players from heat stroke has doubled from 15 to 29 from 2000-2010.

  • There is an emerging concern that increased atmospheric CO2 impacts grain quality, lowering the protein content of the edible portions of wheat, rice and barley.

  • High rates of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been found in children following climate-related disasters, including hurricanes and floods.

  • Children in the world's poorest countries, where the disease burden is already disproportionately high, are most affected by climate change.

  • In 2030, climate change is projected to cause an additional 48,000 deaths attributable to diarrheal disease in children younger than 15 years old, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

To respond to the threat posed by climate change the AAP calls for a new public health movement to educate, advocate, and collaborate with local and national leaders regarding the risks climate change poses to human health. Paediatricians, they argue, have a vital role to play in this movement.


The full technical report “Global Climate Change and Children’s Health” can be downloaded here.