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Climate Change & Children’s Health: AAP Policy Explained

How Climate Change Affects Children How Climate Change Affects Children

By: Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP

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

Connecting the dots between climate & health

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 clean air. We talk with parents about what to do on days when the air quality is poor due to pollution or wildfire smoke so their kids can avoid asthma 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. This means taking care of their emotional health in addition to their physical health.

Caring for the planet to care for children's 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 the link between the health of the planet and the health of children. And it is why we work for climate solutions.

Is climate change now a reality?

The earth's temperature is rising. Glaciers are shrinking. The sea level is rising. Heat waves have become longer and stronger in many places, and more extreme rainfall and drought is affecting different parts of the world.

Earth's rising temperature, and the big changes it has caused, are the result of human activities—especially our burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas for energy and transportation.

Can we fix climate change?

Scientists have understood the relationship between fossil fuel pollution and the temperature of the planet for over 100 years. If current pollution trends continue, more warming will cause worsening effects on health, the economy and nature. But because we understand the cause of the problem, we can fix it.

We have the knowledge and means to act now to change these trends—and invest in a healthier future for our children.

Climate solutions have immediate child health benefits

  • Clean, renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal

  • Healthy transportation systems, including public transit and walkable, bikeable communities

  • Vibrant, inclusive communities 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:

  • Help your community adopt climate solutions. Join forces with a local group to help bring solar, wind or geothermal energy to your school, town, state or even country. Help create safe routes for families to walk and bike where you live.

  • 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. Support their engagement in local, state and national climate solutions.

  • Reduce your own energy consumption and waste. Walking, biking, taking public transit, carpooling, and adopting a more plant-based diet are all ways to help protect the planet.

  • Show them you care. Let kids know that their adult caregivers—parents and pediatricians included—are committed to climate action solutions that protect their health and their world.

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. Ahdoot

Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician in Virginia and an assistant professor of medical education at University of Virginia School of Medicine. Dr. Adhoot is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change Executive Committee. In addition, Dr. Adhoot has served as a lead author of the AAP policy statements and technical reports and authored a chapter on climate change in the AAP's Pediatric Environmental Health, 4th Ed. Dr. Adhoot is a member of the board of the AAP Virginia Chapter and chair and founder of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.

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 Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change (Copyright © 2024)
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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