What Is the Impact of Climate Change on Pediatric Health?
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Impact of Climate Change on Pediatric Health

Published on Feb 02, 2024 and last reviewed on Feb 13, 2024   -  4 min read

Abstract

Our climate has changed significantly over the past decades, creating a great impact on human health, including pediatric health. Read the article to know more.

Introduction:

Climate change is a global problem that has reached beyond melting glaciers and changing weather patterns. Its effects are evident in multiple aspects of human life, including health. Its impact on pediatric health is a growing concern as children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. These health issues can range from respiratory problems to infectious diseases; the consequences are diverse and demand immediate attention.

As the earth's temperature rises, the glaciers are shrinking, leading to rising sea levels. The weather has become extreme. Earth’s rising temperatures have caused big changes and resulted from human activities, particularly dependence on fossil fuel combustion for energy and transportation. This change in climate is responsible for worsening health conditions. However, the good part is that there is enough knowledge to change these trends immediately and invest in a healthier future.

What Is the Impact of Climate Change on Pediatric Health?

Various human activities have led to climate change. The environmental changes caused by anthropogenic (originating from human activity) greenhouse gasses can lead to the following conditions:

  • Respiratory diseases.

  • Sunburn.

  • Melanoma.

  • Immunosuppression (decreased activity of the immune system).

  • Heat stroke.

  • Gastrointestinal diseases.

  • Psychosocial maldevelopment.

  • Allergies.

  • Exposure to mycotoxins.

  • Vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, encephalitides, and Lyme disease.

  • Emerging infectious diseases.

1. Heat Illnesses: Rising temperatures contribute to an increased frequency and intensity of heat waves. Children are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke and dehydration, due to their higher metabolic rates and reduced ability to regulate body temperature. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can have long-term effects on a child's health and development.

2. Air Quality and Respiratory Issues: The changing climate influences air quality, with increased levels of pollutants and the proliferation of allergens. Poor quality of air is linked to respiratory issues in children, such as asthma and other respiratory infections. Longer pollen seasons and heightened levels of air pollution exacerbate these issues, posing a threat to the respiratory well-being of the younger population.

3. Increased Frequency of Extreme Weather Events: Climate change contributes to more frequent and severe weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves. These events can have profound effects on pediatric health, leading to injuries, displacement, and exposure to infectious diseases. Children are at a higher risk of malnutrition and psychological distress in the aftermath of such disasters.

4. Vector-Borne Diseases: Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns affect the distribution and behavior of disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks. This has led to the spread of diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and Lyme disease to new regions. Children, with their developing immune systems, are at a higher risk of contracting these diseases, leading to increased morbidity and mortality rates.

5. Waterborne Diseases: Climate change affects water quality and availability, leading to an increased risk of waterborne diseases. Floods can contaminate water sources, resulting in outbreaks of diarrhea and other water-related illnesses. Additionally, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns impact food production, leading to food insecurity, malnutrition, and developmental issues in children.

6. Mental Health Impact: The psychological toll of climate change on pediatric health is a critical but often overlooked aspect. Disasters, displacement, and uncertainty about the future lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children. Mental health issues can have long-lasting effects on cognitive development and overall well-being.

What Are the Human Activities That Lead to Climate Change?

The earth’s climate has changed considerably over the last century. The following human activities have contributed to this changing climate:

  • Increased usage of fossil fuels has contributed to climate change, leading to the production of particulate matter (PM) that contaminates the air. Particulate matter can have adverse health effects. Switching to clean energy options can help to make the air quality better, leading to better health outcomes and mitigating climate change.

  • The burning of fossil fuels has majorly contributed to observed global warming.

  • Children living in low socio-economic status or otherwise socially disadvantaged are more likely to develop health risks from extreme events like heat waves, floods, and hurricanes due to greater exposure and limited resources available to build resilience.

Pediatricians can help their patients as well as others in society by educating them about the consequences of climate change and encouraging the adoption of cleaner forms of energy.

What Are the Benefits of Climate Action on Child Health?

Various child health problems, like obesity, asthma, and mental and neurodevelopmental disorders, can be improved by taking climate action.

  • Increased usage of active transportation to school can lead to a healthier body mass index (BMI).

  • Reducing fossil fuel combustion decreases air pollution, which is the reason for developing asthma in one in five children.

  • Plant-based diets, particularly those including limited processed meat, generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change and can have better health outcomes.

  • Green space in cities with lower energy consumption in buildings improves air quality and reduces urban temperatures, improving mental and physical health in children.

  • Pediatricians or child specialists are essential in the societal response to climate change as they are trusted experts in child health. Modeling lifestyles can help coworkers and patients.

Conclusion:

The impact of climate change on pediatric health is varied and poses significant challenges to the well-being of children worldwide. Urgent and coordinated efforts are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change, adapt healthcare systems to address emerging challenges, and prioritize the well-being of the younger generation. Global initiatives, community-based interventions, and policy changes are essential to safeguard the health of children in the face of an ever-changing climate. The future of pediatric health is intricately linked to the actions that are taken today to address climate change and maintain a sustainable and healthy world for generations to come.

To reduce the impact of climate on pediatric health, it is essential to distribute competent educational materials and inform families about the relationship between climate change and child health. Further, youth and medical societies must support child health through actions that address climate change. Children should know that they are the most effective and powerful climate advocates today and must be encouraged to engage in climate advocacy with policymakers, family, and friends.

Last reviewed at:
13 Feb 2024  -  4 min read

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