Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP).
The statement, published in the online journal Pediatrics on Monday, urged paediatricians and politicians to collaborate to protect children from climate-related threats. Such threats include natural disasters, heat stress, lower air quality, increased infections, and threats to food and water supplies.
“Because of their growing minds and bodies, children are uniquely vulnerable to changes in their environment,” said Dr Samantha Ahdoot, the statement’s lead author and assistant professor of paediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
The AAP, which represents 64 000 paediatricians and other health professionals who specialise in caring for children, also released a technical report that offered scientific evidence linking climate change to issues of child health, development, wellbeing and nutrition.
“Paediatricians have a unique and powerful voice in this conversation due to their knowledge of child health and disease and their role in ensuring the health of current and future children,” said AAP president Sandra G Hassink.
The report cited changing weather conditions as one of the main causes of trauma to children, as “they are exposed to increased risk of injury, death, loss of or separation from caregivers and mental health consequences”, Ahdoot said.
According to the statement, there have been three times as many extreme weather events between 2000 and 2009 than between 1980 and 1989. Following climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes or floods, high numbers of children are found to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children under one year of age are especially vulnerable to heat-related mortality. According to the AAP, there is more than a 90% chance that average summer temperatures will exceed the highest temperatures yet recorded in many regions by the end of the 21st century.
The statement also cited the threat climate change can pose to food and water supplies. For instance, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect grain quality and lower the protein content of the edible portions of wheat, rice and barley.
“A changing climate has a wide range of effects on the plants, animals and natural systems on which children depend for their own health, safety and security,” Ahdoot said.
Additional health problems also arise. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 88% of diseases attributable to climate change occur in children younger than five.
The AAP report cited numerous infectious diseases influenced by climate change, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, diarrheal illness, amebic meningoencephalitis and coccidioidomycosis.
It claimed, for example, that in 2030, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, climate change will lead to 48 000 more children under the age of 15 dying from diarrheal disease.
According to the statement, children in the world’s poorest countries, where the disease burden is disproportionately high, will be the most affected by climate change.
The AAP statement lays out recommendations to paediatricians, the health sector and the government including building a broader coalition across disciplines to address climate change, education campaigns, and funding public transportation systems.
The report added: “Failure to take prompt, substantive action would be an act of injustice to all children.” – By Ellen Brait
Image – This October 23, 2015, 06:00 UTC Eumetsat satellite image shows category 5 Hurricane Patricia, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Monster Hurricane Patricia roared toward Mexico’s Pacific coast prompting authorities to evacuate villagers, close ports and urge tourists to cancel trips over fears of a catastrophe. The US National Hurricane Centre called Patricia the strongest eastern north Pacific hurricane on record. (AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT – EUMETSAT )