Climate Change & Children’s Health
Unpredictable seasons… natural disasters riddling the globe… stronger hurricane seasons. What is the underlying cause of all of these tragedies? Climate change. Over the next couple of months here on the Magnus Insights blog, we will be addressing significant issues you may notice at your school that are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, such as worsening asthma symptoms and a higher risk of heat stroke in adolescents.
But, for now, let’s get a broad idea of climate change, what it looks like, and why it matters so much to the health of our youth.
88% of the global disease burden, in relation to climate change, falls on children under age 5.
(“Climate Changes Children’s Health,” 2018)
This phenomenon affects our planet in unimaginable ways and can lead to an increase in natural disasters. A few examples noted by NASA as evidence for climate change are:
- Warming oceans.
- Shrinking ice sheets.
- Glacial retreat.
- Sea level rise: 8” in the last century, and the rate in the previous two decades is 2x that of the last century.
- Extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods.
- Ocean acidification, which has increased about 30% since the Industrial Revolution due to rising levels of carbon dioxide emitted by humans.
What effect does climate change have on the United States?
The map below shows a layout of the extreme events we have experienced in recent years throughout the United States. You may have witnessed some of these occurrences yourself, or at least know someone who has.
Why does climate change matter for our kids right now?
Due to the physiology of children, they are at a higher risk of developing complications from climate change and the extreme conditions that accompany it. Children are smaller in stature, and take in more air and water as per their body mass than adults.
Because children are, well, just kids, they do different activities than adults. They spend a lot more time outside, on the ground, and engaging in hand-to-mouth activities causing stress on their still-developing bodies. And, for children with already weak immune systems, the negative impact is even more significant.
The stressors affecting health can be present physically or mentally. Recent studies have shown children who experience traumatic weather events can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Physically, children may become easily exhausted, dehydrate quicker than we expect, and generally inhale more pollutants, which can negatively affect them long term. We need to remain aware of the impact that this can have and we should monitor our children’s health closely.
Some tips for health monitoring related to climate change are:
- Make sure a child’s water intake is adequate.
- Monitor ozone levels and keep kids inside on high-ozone days.
- Make hand washing a must!
- Keep calm and ensure children feel safe during high-stress situations and when extreme weather events occur.
If you are interested in learning more about climate change, you can find out more through the NASA and globalchange.gov websites. Another useful quick fact resource is from the American Public Health Association, which you can find here.
Bell, M., McDermott, A., Zeger, S., Samet, J., & Dominici, F. (2004). Ozone and mortality in 95 US urban communities, 1987 to 2000. JAMA, 292, 2372-2378.
Ch. 1: Introduction: Climate Change and Human Health. Balbus -A. Crimmins-J.L. Gamble-D.R. Easterling-K.E. Kunkel-S. Saha-M.C. Sarofim – https://health2016.globalchange.gov/climate-change-and-human-health
Climate Changes Children’s Health. (2018). Retrieved from
Collins, Timothy W., et al. “Mapping Vulnerability to Climate Change-Related Hazards: Children at Risk in a US-Mexico Border Metropolis.” Population and Environment, vol. 34, no. 3, 2013, pp. 313–337. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42636674.
Ebi, K., & McGregor, G. (2008). Climate change, tropospheric ozone and particulate matter, and health impacts. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116, 1449-1455.
Gryparis, A., et al. (2004). Acute effects of ozone on mortality from the “air pollution and health: a European approach” project. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 170, 1080-1087.
Kinney, P. (2008). Climate change, air quality, and human health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35, 459-467.