Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) issued a report declaring that children are especially at risk from the effects of climate change. This news is not startling, as young children are more susceptible to heat, toxins, etc., because their bodies are smaller and their immune systems are under development. Children are more vulnerable than adults, and now the APA is asking doctors to lead the way in modeling sustainable practices, especially in the United States.
The APA report states,
Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increases in climate-sensitive infectious diseases, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat-related, potentially fatal, illness.
Specifically, the APA identified illnesses caused by mosquitoes, such as malaria, respiratory illnesses, and heat-related deaths will increase for our youngest population. Mass migrations from uninhabitable regions is also likely, which will obviously impact children's health. Furthermore, the report specifies:
- Air pollution does more damage to children's lungs, causing asthma and respiratory ailments, because their lungs are still developing, they breathe at a higher rate than adults and are outdoors more.
- Waterborne infections, such as diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, hit children especially hard. These infections rise sharply with more rain, which is expected as the climate warms.
- As mosquitoes are able to move to higher ground, the malaria zone is expanding. Kids are especially vulnerable; 75% of malaria deaths occur in children younger than 5.
Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but it is a public health issue. Pediatricians and parents have a responsibility to educate one another and do what they can to lessen their impact on climate change. If the children are our future, and climate change is happening, then we must make sure that children are safe and healthy from its impacts.