Global Climate Change and the Effects on Children’s Health

The AAP issued a statement regarding a new report to be released Monday detailing the adverse effects of global climate change on children’s health. Fortunately, the White House did not get it’s sharp-edged scissors on it.

Just days ago, reports surfaced lambasting the Bush White House for “eviscerating” CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding’s published Senate testimony on global climate change effects on health. Essentially all mention of likely ill effects on health were either eliminated or watered down. The usual mumbo-jumbo political excuse was given as a reason for the censorship, but some on the hill, and many scientists and public health advocates, are not giving up that easily.

In remarkably timely fashion, the AAP is offering its version of the truth (see the recommendations for pediatricians below). And all politics aside, there is solid evidence supporting the AAP report and claims that global warming and other climate changes are likely to have a tremendous impact on the health of our children.

Here are a handful of recent relevant publications:

– Ebi KL, Paulson JA: Climate change and children. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2007 Apr;54(2):213-26, vii. Review. 36.

– United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization. Children in the New Millennium: Environmental Impact on Health. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme; 2002. Available at: www.unep.org/ceh. Accessed April 18, 2007

– Shea K. Global environmental change and children’s health: understanding the challenges and finding solutions. J Pediatr. 2003;143:149 –154

As Dr. Michael Lerner, founder of Commonweal, noted in our environmental health panel session at the Pangea Conference, we must “be a voice” for our children who cannot vote and cannot directly influence policy change. Deirdre Imus, participating in the same panel, agreed; in fact, she and I concluded in our recent piece in Explore on Environmental Injustice, “Children cannot protect themselves nor can they clean up an environment our society has created. Independently, they have no political or economic voice. It is our responsibility to insure that their environment is safe.” I’m glad that this is one area we all stand together.

From the AAP policy statement and technical report, “Global Climate Change and Children’s Health”:

RECOMMENDATIONS TO PEDIATRICIANS

Pediatricians are dedicated to the promotion and protec-

tion of children’s health. Climate change threatens the

health, welfare, and future of current and subsequent

generations of children. Pediatricians can incorporate

considerations of the effects of climate change on health

into their professional practice and personal lives in

many ways, including patient education, lifestyle prac-

tices, and political advocacy. Some possible approaches

might include the following.

1. Recognize and educate yourself about the links be-

tween child health and climate change. Existing an-

ticipatory guidance already incorporates many issues

that can help mitigate climate change. For example,

encouraging families and children to walk or ride

bicycles more may reduce automobile emissions.

2. Advocate for comprehensive local and national policies

that address climate change to improve the health of

children now and in the future. Educate elected officials

on the health risks to children from climate change;

write letters to the editor, attend public meetings, or

provide expert testimony. Work with local schools,

child care centers, community organizations, and busi-

nesses on projects that will help reduce GHGs. Support

policies to expand parks and green spaces, strengthen

public transport, improve sidewalks and bicycle lanes,

and create local award systems for energy-efficient busi-

nesses, buildings, organizations, and households.

3. Serve as a role model for practices that promote envi-

ronmental sustainability. Emphasize energy conserva-

tion in your workplace, encourage and model reduced

dependency on automobile travel, and consider the en-

vironmental and energy costs when making major pur-

chases for your practice or institution.

4. Help to build and support coalitions across disciplines

and institutions to search for novel, comprehensive

approaches to mitigate and adapt to climate change in

your community and region. Work with local and

state health departments to strengthen public health

infrastructure, disease surveillance and reporting, and

disaster preparedness.

5. Work to ensure that concepts related to the pediatric

health implications of climate change are part of

pediatric training and curricula.

Comments

  1. These recommendations from the AAP are outstanding.
    Boiled down these five recommendations
    1. Recognize and educate yourself about the links be-
    tween child health and climate change.
    2. Advocate for comprehensive local and national policies
    that address climate change to improve the health of
    children now and in the future.
    3. Serve as a role model for practices that promote envi-
    ronmental sustainability.
    4. Help to build and support coalitions across disciplines
    and institutions.
    5. Work to ensure that concepts related to the pediatric
    health implications of climate change are part of
    pediatric training and curricula.
    Sounds like Green Health Care.
    The opportunity I’d like to point out is to build and support coalitons across disciplines. It is high time physicians and health providers make the connections with local citizens working to better environmental health and promote a sustainabile society.

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