2017 is the Year of Climate Change and Health, a 12-month APHA-led initiative with monthly themes meant to raise awareness of and mobilize action on the health impacts of climate change. October is Vulnerable Populations month. Here, APHA’s Surili Sutaria Patel, MS, deputy director of the Center for Public Health Policy, introduces the theme with an overview of climate change’s health impacts on those who face greater exposure, are more sensitive and least adaptive.

surili-sutaria-patel-300x279Stunted growth, malnutrition, dehydration, Lyme disease, Hantavirus, Zika virus, gastrointestinal disorders, starvation, asthma and allergies are just a few ways in which children are disproportionately affected by climate change because of their physical and cognitive immaturity.

Compared to adults, children breathe more air and drink more fluid for their body weight. Also, because they are shorter and spend more time on the ground, they are closer to ground-level pollutants. These factors cause children to have higher exposure levels than adults.

They also have immature immune and organ systems. Thus, they are more sensitive to exposures that can cause permanent disabilities. Adolescents engage in more outdoor activities than adults, leaving them more exposed to heat and outdoor air pollutants like ozone. The following are just three examples of ways children are more vulnerable to a changing climate than healthy adults:

  1. With climate change comes more frequent and intense extreme heat events. Children are more vulnerable to changes in temperature than adults because they are unable to regulate their body temperature. This can lead to more heat-related illnesses and death, especially for infants.
  2. Pollutants and pollen caused by extended warm and pollen seasons can have chronic impacts on respiratory health, triggering allergies and asthma, in children at a very young age.
  3. Food production is affected by droughts and flooding, but equally important, these events alter the nutrient quality of food as well. With reduced access to foods and nutrients, poor nutrition can lead to developmental delays and poor health outcomes in children and infants.

The month of October highlights the unique challenges vulnerable populations, like children, face and the solutions that are meant to combat those challenges. Register for the October 19 webinar to learn more about the health effects of climate change on children, in particular, and stay tuned for more resources on the monthly theme page and posts on this blog.