Climate Change’s Profound Effect on Child Health

Climate change was a hot topic at AAP 2017. Doximity caught up with two experts Dr Philip Landrigan and Jonathan Patz at the conference.

Philip Landrigan, MD: Climate change has a range of effects on children’s health, it has direct effects like heat stress and heat stroke but it also has indirect effects because climate change increases air pollution, it increases the frequency of hurricanes and other extreme weather events, it increases rainfall and flooding in some areas but it provokes drought in other areas and every one of those effects can have impacts on children’s health. Air pollution has respiratory effects, flooding can expose children to contaminants in the floodwater and droughts especially in poor parts of the world can drastically affect children’s health by causing malnutrition.

Jonathan Patz, MD: Some of the more immediate impacts are coming from these storm disasters, displaced populations and even when you think about the Syrian civil war as one example that was preceded by the worst drought in the instrumental record. So, you had hundreds of thousands of people dying millions of refugees forced out of the country.

Philip Landrigan, MD: A rising global temperature has different effects in different parts of the country. We’ve seen the effects along the East Coast this year in the hurricane season in Houston first of all, in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in Florida with hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Other coastal cities are in jeopardy because another consequence of rising temperatures is rising sea levels in coastal cities from Boston to New York to Charleston, South Carolina to Mobile, Jacksonville, New Orleans are all at risk if sea levels rise.

Other parts of the country the Southwest for example consequence is drought and we see the drought decreasing levels of rainfall and snowfall and that in turn leads to increased frequency of forest fires so different parts of the country are affected but the effects span the greater part of the United States.

It begins with education. Pediatricians need to educate themselves about climate change because it’s not something that’s been taught in medical school and not taught in residency programs. They need to educate their patients. They need to educate policymakers at the city level, at the state level, at the national level members of Congress, senators.

Jonathan Patz, MD: The first thing that pediatricians can do is to understand that the global climate crisis is a health crisis and climate change is absolutely a public health issue. One thing they can do is to lead by example and have a low carbon footprint and bike and walk and show leadership themselves and be an example. Pediatricians should demand safe transportation of their local officials that that biking and walking needs to be separated from motorized transport.

Another area is in food. You know, we eat a lot of meat in the United States eating lower on the food chain would both help with our cardiovascular health and also improve the environment as far as the fossil fuel energy and water. And then finally they can make a stand on clean air quality.

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