“There is nothing more important than protecting the health, welfare and future for our children and grandchildren,” Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, lead author of the statement and member of the AAP’s Council on Environmental Health Executive Committee, told CBS. “Climate change is about the world in which our children are living today and in which they will be raising their own families. Their future is at stake, yet they do not vote and they have no voice in the debate. We have a moral obligation to act on their behalf.”
The AAP’s policy statement breaks down the health consequences of climate change into direct and indirect effects.
Direct effects of climate change on children
Direct effects include those that result from extreme weather events, including severe storms, floods and wildfires that scientists say are occurring more frequently and on a larger scale because of climate change, the report says.
“Children’s unique needs place them at risk of injury, death, loss of or separation from caregivers and mental health consequences due to severe weather events,” Ahdoot told CBS News, who is also the assistant professor of pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine.
For example, about 250,000 children were evacuated and relocated as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and more than 5,000 were separated from their families, with the last one reunited with their family six months after the storm, according to the report. This took “a toll on their academic performance, behavior and mental health,” Welch writes.
The report also notes that heat waves are lasting longer and are more severe, particularly putting infants and high school athletes at risk of heat-related illness and death. Annually, 9,237 cases related to heat are reported nationally in high school athletes, Welsh reports.
Indirect effects of climate change on children
Indirect health concerns include respiratory diseases; lengthened allergy seasons; smoke from wildfires; and infectious diseases like malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus and others that could
see more favorable conditions in a warmer climate. Increased transmissions risk of Lyme disease in the northeastern U.S. has been linked to climate warming in that area, says the report.
Climate change also alters agricultural conditions, which affects food availability and cost, further threatening the nutrition needs of children around the world, says the report. Added to that, the nutritional value of foods is changing because of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, says the report.
“The report emphasized that children in the world’s poorest countries, where health burdens due to disease and malnutrition are already disproportionately high, are most affected by climate change,” Welsh writes.
The authors also note that climate change can cause population displacement and communities to fail, and thus will contribute to global instability and a potential increase in violent conflict.
Call to action
Based on “well-established evidence” that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of climate change, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls for pediatricians, the health sector and governments to take action to address these issues, hoping that a universal concern about the health effects of climate change on children will drive this action.
“Failure to take prompt, substantive action, given our current knowledge, would be an act of injustice to all children,” says the report.
AAP calls for the promotion of “energy efficiency and renewable energy production, surveillance and research on climate-associated health conditions, public awareness and education campaigns and funding for public transit and urban planning that supports open space, walkability and green building design,” Welsh writes.