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Climate Change: AAP Calls on Doctors, Policymakers to Protect Children's Health

​​As climate change disrupts the planet through powerful weather patterns, rising temperatures and more, children are especially vulnerable. They have greater exposure to air, food and water contaminants per unit of body weight, and their development and growth depend on a healthy environment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for action to protect children in the policy statement, "Climate Change and Children's Health: Building a Healthy Future for Every Child." The statement and an accompanying technical report update previous recommendations from 2015. They are published in the March 2024 Pediatrics.

Children's health inequities will pose even bigger challenges

"We see firsthand the effects of air pollution, wildfires and heat on our children with asthma and respiratory illnesses," said Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, a lead author of the statement, written by the Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change, Council on Children and Disasters, Section on Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, and Section on Minority Health, Equity, and Inclusion.

"Children who already bear a higher burden of disease because of poverty, structural racism and less education or who speak languages other than English face even higher risks of climate change hazards," Dr. Adhoot said.

"But we understand the cause of this problem, so we know how to fix it. Climate solutions are the foundation of a healthy future for every child."

AAP climate change recommendations

The AAP offers recommendations for the medical sector and government. It encourages adopting policies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, promote cleaner air and making it easier to get around on foot or bicycle. The statement also urges more sustainable diets and increased access to nature.

The accompanying technical report provides the scientific basis and knowledge about the effects of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases on earth systems, as well as the child health impacts.

Pediatricians and other health care providers can:

  • Build climate change counseling into clinical practice. Assess climate risks and recommend climate solutions when screening for and addressing social determinants of health such as energy, food, and housing security. For example, encourage active modes of transport or promote consumption of plant-based proteins to reduce carbon emissions.

  • Make climate, health, and equity curricula a part of medical school, residency, continuing education and board examinations.

  • Reduce emissions and waste in the health care sector.

  • Serve as role models in the personal and professional community. Adapt practices that promote sustainability and advocate for equitable climate solution policies at the local, state, national and international level.

Government policymakers can:

  • Promote energy efficiency and renewable energy production at the federal, state, and local levels, and preserve essential public health protections in the Clean Air Act.

  • Expand public transportation, increase construction of safe bikeways and walkways, and support urban planning designs that reduce dependence on automobile transit.

  • Provide funding as an incentive to reduce reliance on livestock as food and promote plant-based diets.

Building a healthier planet is part of caring for children

"We all want our children to grow up healthy, safe and secure. Building a healthier planet is essential to reach that goal in the midst of uncertainties about what climate change will bring," said Carl R. Baum, MD, FACMT, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement.

"A pediatrician can help families understand the ways, big and small, where we can help. We are in this together."

Policy statements and technical reports created by AAP are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.

The latest policy and technical report will help guide a new AAP strategic initiative on environmental health and disaster readiness. The initiative is among four priorities outlined by the Board of Directors to shape the Academy's work in 2024.

More information

2/16/2024 12:00 AM
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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