The health consequences of climate change disproportionately affect children. Fortunately, there are steps parents, teachers, and coaches can take to keep young people healthy.
Climate change frequently makes headlines, but typically for its effects on the polar ice caps or global agriculture — not Little League games. However, the effects climate change has on young children — and young athletes in particular — should be at the forefront of every parent’s mind.
According to a new report from the medical journal, The Lancet, the detrimental health effects caused by climate change will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, including the chronically ill, the elderly, and young children. In a policy brief that accompanies the report, Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Renee Salas warns, “With every degree of warming, a child today faces a future where their health and well-being will be increasingly impacted by the realities and dangers of a warmer world.”
Understanding the Climate Change Report
The report in The Lancet compared two climate change scenarios, predicting the health consequences for both contingencies. In the first scenario, the world reins in emissions, ensuring average global temperatures rise by less than two degrees Celsius by 2100. In the second scenario, emissions remain unchecked. The latter scenario would result in worsening air pollution, sharply rising temperatures, widespread malnutrition, and an increase in the spread of infectious disease.
Because of their physiologies, children are especially vulnerable to these negative consequences of rising emissions. For instance, with faster heartbeats and higher breathing rates, children absorb more air pollution relative to their body size than do adults. Fine air pollution, especially PM 2.5, can damage the heart and lungs if inhaled, potentially contributing to chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Rising temperatures can also dry out vegetation, making it easier for wildfires to start. (Smoke from wildfires is a leading source of fine-particulate pollution.)
But it’s not just their physiologies that place children at an increased risk of experiencing bad health outcomes due to climate change. Children also tend to spend more time outside than adults do, making them more likely to inhale fine particulate pollution and experience the ill effects of extreme heat. In fact, a 2017 report found that heat-related illnesses were the single leading cause of death and disability in young athletes in the United States — an alarming statistic, to be sure, but one that can be addressed with heightened awareness among parents, teachers, and coaches.
Keeping Your Kids Safe
While climate change can certainly be anxiety-inducing, parents can take solace in the fact that awareness of the issue is a key first step to keeping their children safe. Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have happened this decade, but parents who are aware of this trend — and take it seriously — can ensure their children stay cool and hydrated while enjoying outdoor activities.
Similarly, staying safe from pollution can be as simple as knowing when pollution levels are high. Many smartphone weather apps come with pollution information included; if yours doesn’t, download an app that will alert you when pollution is spiking, and plan your children’s outdoor time around these fluctuations.
If your child is particularly sensitive to pollution or spends a lot of time outside for sports or other activities, consider talking to a pediatrician about how to keep them safe and healthy. Kids’ Health is your single source for your children’s physical, emotional, and academic needs in the Beverly, Massachusetts, area. Reach out today to learn more....