Climate Change Puts Children’s Health at RiskBy Sofía Garduño | Thu, 06/16/2022 - 11:39
Children’s health is being highly affected by climate change, found research published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). While individuals of all ages are at risk, children are more exposed to environmental contaminants due to their daily activities.
“The fetus, infant and child are especially vulnerable to exposure to air pollution and climate change, which are already taking a major toll on the physical and mental health of children. Given the frequent co-occurrence of various fossil-fuel exposures, their interactions and cumulative environmental impacts are a growing concern,” said Kari Nadeau, Director, Stanford’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research, and Frederica Perera, Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, in an article of The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than 1 percent of the 6,000 cities in 117 countries that are monitoring air quality comply with the recommended thresholds. Globally, air pollution causes 20 percent of newborn deaths and thousands of deaths among children under five years old, as reported by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Children’s exposure to polluted air can transform their immune system over time, affect their learning abilities and cause serious diseases in adulthood, said Nadeau. Moreover, air pollution is also associated with mental health conditions in children and adolescents.
“Recent epidemiologic research indicates that air pollution is a risk factor for mental health conditions in children and adolescents. For example, lifetime exposure to traffic-related air pollution can lead to depression and anxiety symptoms. Of particular concern are the cumulative impacts on mental health of air pollution and climate change,” according to Nadeau.
Meanwhile, global warming is causing insects that carry diseases to expand their range and access places that they could not in the past, leading to the spread of Lyme disease, dengue, malaria and zika. During the past decade, dengue fever and hemorrhagic fever became increasingly common among the juvenile and infant population in Mexico. This has been a cause of alarm due to the appearance of early complications, as reported by MBN. On the other hand, Malaria causes 400,000 deaths globally and the majority of them occur in children under the age of five years, says WHO. However, mortality from this disease in Mexico is low. In 2020, the country saw less than 100 cases and during the past 10 years, 24 states have not reported any malaria cases.
“The geographic ranges of the species of mosquitoes that carry malaria (anopheles) and dengue (aedes) have expanded because of warmer temperatures. The effect on health is greatest among children in tropical regions; however, small local outbreaks of dengue have been seen in Florida, Hawaii and Texas,” according to the NEJM article.
Additionally, polluted water and food are spreading diarrheal diseases among young children. Children who suffer from recurrent episodes of diarrhea are more vulnerable to malnutrition and other health problems. Moreover, each 20 seconds a mother loses a child due to the lack of clean water and 1.5 million children die annually for the same reason, according to OXFAM Intermon.
“The data are compelling that the toll on children and pregnant women from fossil-fuel–driven climate change and air pollution is large and growing, affecting immediate and long-term health. Interventions—which are, in many cases, cost-saving—exist to address the causes of climate change and air pollution and the disparities that they have created,” said Nadeau and Perera.