Global climate change will have multiple effects on human health. Vulnerable populations—children, the elderly, and the poor—will be disproportionately affected.
We reviewed projected impacts of climate change on children’s health, the pathways involved in these effects, and prevention strategies.
We assessed primary studies, review articles, and organizational reports.
Climate change is increasing the global burden of disease and in the year 2000 was responsible for > 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden, 88% fell upon children. Documented health effects include changing ranges of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue; increased diarrheal and respiratory disease; increased morbidity and mortality from extreme weather; changed exposures to toxic chemicals; worsened poverty; food and physical insecurity; and threats to human habitation. Heat-related health effects for which research is emerging include diminished school performance, increased rates of pregnancy complications, and renal effects. Stark variation in these outcomes is evident by geographic region and socioeconomic status, and these impacts will exacerbate health disparities. Prevention strategies to reduce health impacts of climate change include reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation through multiple public health interventions.
Further quantification of the effects of climate change on children’s health is needed globally and also at regional and local levels through enhanced monitoring of children’s environmental health and by tracking selected indicators. Climate change preparedness strategies need to be incorporated into public health programs.
Keywords: environmental justice, global burden of disease, global warming, pediatric environmental health, vulnerable populations, weather