Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Global Climate Change and Children's Health: Threats and Strategies for Prevention

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Global Climate Change and Children's Health: Threats and Strategies for Prevention

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Global climate change will have multiple effects on human health. Vulnerable populations--children, the elderly, and the poor--will be disproportionately affected.

OBJECTIVE: We reviewed projected impacts of climate change on children's health, the pathways involved in these effects, and prevention strategies.

DATA SOURCES: We assessed primary studies, review articles, and organizational reports.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Climate change is increasing the global burden of disease and in the year 2000 was responsible for > 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden, 88% fell upon children. Documented health effects include changing ranges of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue; increased diarrheal and respiratory disease; increased morbidity and mortality from extreme weather; changed exposures to toxic chemicals; worsened poverty; food and physical insecurity; and threats to human habitation. Heat-related health effects for which research is emerging include diminished school performance, increased rates of pregnancy complications, and renal effects. Stark variation in these outcomes is evident by geographic region and socioeconomic status, and these impacts will exacerbate health disparities. Prevention strategies to reduce health impacts of climate change include reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation through multiple public hearth interventions.

CONCLUSIONS: Further quantification of the effects of climate change on children's health is needed globally and also at regional and local levels through enhanced monitoring of children's environmental health and by tracking selected indicators. Climate change preparedness strategies need to be incorporated into public health programs.

KEY WORDS: environmental justice, global burden of disease, global warming, pediatric environmental health, vulnerable populations, weather. Environ Health Perspect 119:291-298 (2011). doi:10.1289/ehp.l002233 [Online 14 October 2010]

Global climate change is anticipated to increase the average global temperature and the frequency of extreme weather events. Regional projections, however, show substantial variation in amount and timing of precipitation, increasing in some places and decreasing in others, and they indicate an overall increase in variability of weather patterns (Bernstein et al. 2007). Sea level rise, another consequence of climate change, will lead to flooding especially in island nations and low-lying delta regions (Bindoff et al. 2007). These diverse changes will have varied and numerous health impacts. Few of the many publications describing health impacts of climate change focus on effects among children or other vulnerable subpopulations [Balbus and Malina 2009; World Health Organization (WHO) 2009b]. Table 1 summarizes the outcomes most commonly examined (Akachi et al. 2009; Bunyavanich et al. 2003; Canadian Institute of Child Health 2001; Ebi and Paulson 2007; Shea et al 2007; United Nations Children's Fund 2007; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2009).

Table 1. Child-specific, climate-sensitive health risks and effects
(a) through the lens of global climate change as a risk factor and
resulting epidemiologic challenges. (b)

 Child-specific,    Climate-health       Current           Models of
climate-sensitive      response         preventable      future burden
health risks and       function      climate-sensitive    of disease
    effects          determinants     disease burden

Infectious         Vector control    More than 80,000    No
disease            programs, water   annual deaths due   age-stratified
                   and sanitation    to malaria and      projections
                   infrastructure,   diarrheal disease   exist by
                   immunization      in children < 15    disease
                   status            years of age;       category
                                     DALYs not
                                     quantified by

Food, water,       Food and water    Almost 4,000
toxics             availability,     deaths from
                   access, and       protein-energy
                   quality           malnutrition in
                                     children < 15
                                     years of age;
                                     DALYs not
                                     quantified by

Air contaminants   Particulate       Unquantified
                   ozone, and other
                   levels; air
                   quality alerts;
                   pollen timing
                   and intensity

Extreme weather    Early warning     Almost 1,000
                   systems,          annual deaths from
                   emergency         unintentional
                   preparedness      injury associated
                   plans, baseline   with extreme
                   infrastructure    weather

Population         Political         Unquantified
displacement       stability,
                   available to

(a) Adapted from Akachi et al. … 
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