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How Climate Change Affects Children's Health

How Climate Change Affects Children How Climate Change Affects Children

By: Aparna Bole, MD, FAAP & Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP

Every day, pediatricians see how climate change affects children’s physical and mental health. When pediatricians talk with parents about what’s good for their kids, part of our job is connecting the dots between climate change and their child’s health.

Connecting the dots

For example, pediatricians often talk with parents about how a healthy diet and exercise help children grow into healthy adults. When we talk about nutrition, we can discuss eating less-processed foods—and considering more plant-based diets, which are good for the planet and healthy for kids. When we talk about ways families can get kids to exercise and play outdoors, we also discuss air quality. We talk with parents about what to do on days when the air quality is poor so their kids can avoid asth​ma attacks​ and how to cope with higher pollen counts if their kids have seasonal allergies. And when kids experience stressful or traumatic climate-related events, such as hurricanes and wildfires, we talk about ways to cope with anxiety and take care of their emotional health in addition to their physical health.

Pediatricians and parents share the same goal—to protect children’s health today, and to ensure that kids can grow into healthy, thriving adulthood. That’s why pediatricians care about connecting the dots between climate change and children’s health, and advocate for climate solutions.

Is climate change real?

The earth's temperature is rising. Glaciers are shrinking. The sea level is rising. Weather has become more extreme, both hot and cold—as has rainfall and drought in different parts of the world.

Earth’s rising temperatures have caused big changes and are the result of human activities, especially our reliance on fossil fuel combustion for energy and transportation.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus about the reality and human causes of climate change, and the likelihood of worsening health, economic and ecological consequences if current trends continue.

The good news is that we have the knowledge and means to act now to change these trends and invest in a healthier future.

Climate solutions have immediate child health benefits

  • Clean, renewable energy
  • Healthy transportation systems, including public transit and walkable, bikeable communities
  • Vibrant, inclusive cities that contain safe places for all kids to live, learn, walk and play
  • Sustainable food systems and plant-forward, whole-food diets
  • Resilient communities and health care systems that are prepared for the effects of climate change

These solutions result in cleaner air and a more stable climate—and healthier, safer environments for children today and in the future.

What are some things we can do to act on climate?

The climate crisis can feel like an overwhelming topic and can be a source of anxiety for kids and families. Being involved in action and advocacy can help. You can:

  • Reduce your own energy consumption and waste. Walking, biking, taking public transit, carpooling, and adopting a more plant-forward diet are all ways to be more mindful about our relationship with the planet.
  • Let kids know that their voices and advocacy can be powerful. Kids may be inspired to know that some of our most effective and powerful climate advocates today are children and youth. They, too, can engage in climate advocacy with policymakers, family and friends.
  • Show them you care. Let kids know that their adult caregivers—parents and pediatricians included—are committed to advocating for climate action to protect their health.

We can be honest, action-oriented and hopeful in talking with our kids about climate change!

Talk with your pediatrician

If you're concerned about the health effects of climate change, talk with your pediatrician. You can also find answers about environmental exposures by contacting the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit in your region.

More information

About Dr. Bole

Aparna Bole, MD, FAAP, is an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. She is chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change Executive Committee.

About Dr. McCarthy

Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She writes about health and parenting for theHarvard Health Blog, Huffington Post and many other online and print publications.

This document was supported in part through cooperative agreement OT18-1802 awarded to the American Academy of Pediatrics and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2022)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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