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How Climate Change Affects Children: AAP Policy Explained

How Climate Change Affects Children How Climate Change Affects Children

By: Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP

When pediatricians take care of children, we aren't just thinking about their health and safety now—we are thinking about their health and safety in the future, too.

When we talk with parents about healthy diet and exercise, we aren't just thinking about good growth and energy now, we are thinking about making sure that children grow into healthy adults. When we talk with parents about tobacco exposure, we aren't just thinking about avoiding asthma attacks, we are thinking about the risk of future lung cancer. When we talk with parents about helping their children with homework, we aren't just thinking about passing first grade or getting into college, we are thinking about their ability to earn a living wage when they grow up.

That's why pediatricians care about climate change, and why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued the policy statement entitled "Global Climate Change and Children's Health." Climate change not only affects the lives of children now, it has everything to do with their future.

Climate change is a reality.

The earth's temperature is rising. Glaciers are shrinking. The sea level is rising. Weather has become more extreme, both hot and cold—as has rainfall and drought in different parts of the world. Scientists are clear that we are responsible for this change: the rise in greenhouse gases, mostly from our use of fossil fuels and from deforestation, has led to changes we are seeing. This isn't natural. We did this.

And it affects our children.

Here's how climate change affects our children now

  • Children are more vulnerable to heat waves, especially infants and athletes.

  • Extreme weather events, such as severe storms, floods or wildfires, not only directly threaten the lives and safety of children, they put them at risk of mental health problems—and can also cause lasting effects when they destroy their communities and their schools.

  • Poor air quality from climate change can cause breathing problems, especially in children with asthma.

  • Climate change has led to increases in infections such as Lyme disease, diarrhea, and parasites, which are often more dangerous to children than adults.

  • In some parts of the world, climate change has led to less food—and less healthy food.

If climate change continues

But if climate change continues, so will the effects on our children as they grow into adults. They will live in a world with:

  • Unhealthier air

  • Fewer species of plants and animals

  • Less land, as the seas rise

  • Less food

  • Mass migration, as people try to find a safe and healthy place to live

  • More instability, as people and governments argue over limited resources

What everyone can do, starting today

We don't want any of this for our children. Which is why we need to act now. There's so much that each and every one of us can do, starting today:

  • We can reduce our energy consumption and waste—as individuals, families, communities and societies.

  • We can work to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas—and increase our use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

  • We can create and strengthen systems that can help keep us safe from the effects of climate change, such as early warning systems for extreme weather, and ways to keep people safe during extreme weather and natural disasters.

  • We can find ways to strengthen our health care system to be ready to help not just in cases of extreme weather or natural disaster, but also to help with the effects of extreme heat and poor air quality.

  • We can advocate for local, national and international policies that decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's work together to leave the world a better, healthier, safer place—and give our children a better, healthier, safer future.

Talk with your pediatrician

If you're concerned about carbon monoxide, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) have staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over environmental toxins.

More information

About Dr. McCarthy

Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She writes about health and parenting for theHarvard Health Blog, Huffington Post and many other online and print publications.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2015)
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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