On Child Environmental Health Day, we focus on the health implications of environmental exposure and a changing climate for our children. Today’s guest blogger, APHA’s Olubukolami “Mimi” Musa, MPH, program associate with the Center for Public Health Policy, discusses the topic in connection with this month’s Year of Climate Change and Health theme — Vulnerable Populations.

mimijpegChildren face greater exposure, are more sensitive and are least adaptive to the health effects of climate change. With more frequent and severe weather events to come, we must ensure that our local and national environmental public health systems are equipped to protect and assist the most vulnerable among us. This includes children, seniors, pregnant women, communities of color, low-income communities, those with disabilities and more.

Children are vulnerable
In 2016, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, APHA launched a project to understand the current state of environmental public health systems across the US — particularly the ways in which they respond to the needs of children. Children under age eight are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and an inadequate or unresponsive environmental public health system.

Climate change increases air pollution; creates longer, more intense allergy seasons; increases the risk of vector-borne disease; produces more frequent and extreme heat waves, drought, wildfires, precipitation and flooding; increases the likelihood of water contamination and food insecurity. Children can neither protect themselves nor easily recover from the resulting health consequences.

Their bodies are still developing, and their low body weight, enhanced rate of absorption, level of immunity, hand-to-mouth behavior, time spent playing outside and on the ground, dependence on adults and more put them at higher risk for asthma; heat stroke; lead poisoning; ozone and toxic chemical exposure; food-, water- and vector-borne disease and more.

Are we meeting their needs?
To better understand the state of US environmental public health systems and their ability to respond to the needs of children, APHA is conducting a 50-state scan. It seeks to identify environmental health system gaps between the availability of services and the accessibility of those services. For instance, a state may offer an environmental health service. But if information is not easily accessible, the public may not know that the service exists or how they might use it.

APHA began the Environmental Public Health Systems: Projecting the Health of our Children project by consulting environmental health experts. This was done by phone and at a round table event held at APHA’s 2016 Annual Meeting. These efforts identified essential services in the environmental health system that should be implemented across the country. Based on the services identified, APHA designed a scan of state health and environmental quality departments.ceh-day-logo-e1502224611792

Next, it will discuss the scan’s early results with select communities to determine if the experience is representative and gain a deeper understanding of the system’s ability to respond. Following these discussions, APHA will produce several profiles to illustrate how communities interact with their local, state and federal environmental health systems and illuminate best practices, lessons learned and challenges that still remain.

Although this is an ongoing project, it highlights the benefits of having more equipped environmental public health systems that meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities, especially children. Children don’t have a choice about what they are exposed to, but the consequences can affect them for the rest of their lives, underscoring the need for climate change action and accessible environmental health services that center on their unique needs.

Learn more about APHA’s ongoing environmental public health system scan by reading the program summary. To engage on this topic, sign up for today’s Children’s Environmental Health Twitter Chat, beginning at 2 pm EDT. And join us on October 19 for the Year of Climate Change and Health webinar, “Climate Changes Children’s Health: Protecting our Future,” brought to you by APHA and the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.