Climate Change Hurts Children First and Worst

BY ON October 28, 2015

Baby crying while doctor listens to heart
The doctors who devote their careers to caring for children’s health are deeply concerned about climate change, and they consider it a professional obligation to urge action at all levels of society.

That’s the conclusion of a policy statement issued this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s leading professional organization for pediatricians.

Given our current knowledge about the unequivocal warming of our planet, it says, “failure to take prompt, substantive action would be an act of injustice to all children.”

The pediatricians’ statement comes at a time when evidence about the health impacts of climate change is growing. For example, Joe Romm at Climate Progress this week summarized disturbing new research showing that elevated carbon dioxide levels hinder cognition, adding to decades of research that links carbon dioxide with declines in productivity, learning, and test scores. Carbon dioxide, of course, is the most plentiful climate pollutant, and is emitted by power plants, cars, planes, and other industrial sources. It accounts for more than 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

These cognition problems can occur at levels of carbon dioxide currently experienced by our society, especially in indoor locations like schools and offices, where CO2 levels routinely increase above background outdoor levels.

Ironically, such cognitive decrements may be increasing at a time in our civilization when we could not be more dependent on the maximum functioning of our collective brainpower to ensure our survival as a species.

As another example of mounting evidence linking climate change with children’s health impacts, new research shows that rising temperatures and periods of drought will lead to low birth weight in infants, which is a marker of overall health.

Climate change hurts children first and worst. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement notes that climate change already takes 150,000 lives each year, and that almost all of those deaths are among children in developing countries.

The policy statement, accompanied by a more detailed technical report reviewing the science linking climate change and health, updates a 2007 statement and affirms that pediatricians have an important role to play in addressing this global public health threat.

As our planet heats up, children will be vulnerable to the many health impacts of climate change, including:

  • the physical and psychological impacts of weather disasters
  • increased heat stress
  • declining air quality
  • altered disease patterns of some infections, such as Lyme and Malaria
  • food and water shortages in vulnerable regions
  • food insecurity, civil unrest, and mass migrations

Air quality will decline because of three main reasons:

  1. rising smog levels in urban areas (mostly driven by heat)
  2. increased pollen counts and a lengthening of the allergy season
  3. smoke from drought-fueled wildfires

Declining air quality will in turn exacerbate respiratory disease and asthma in children.

Pediatricians are calling on world leaders to act promptly and substantively on climate change. Let’s heed their advice, and join the call for global climate action.



TOPICS: Carbon Pollution, Children's Health, Climate Change