Home Tech Climate change and air pollution affect children’s health

Climate change and air pollution affect children’s health

Climate change and air pollution affect children's health

CClimate change affects everyone, but especially children. Their tiny bodies, and the fact that they grow so quickly from the time they’re in the womb, make them more vulnerable to toxins, pollution and other consequences of climate change. Throughout their lives, children also face greater exposure to climate change damage than adults.

A new scientific review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows how dangerous climate-related threats are to children’s health. The researchers analyzed data on the specific effects of a rapidly warming planet and found that climate change, driven in large part by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, harms children’s mental and physical health from the moment they that are in utero through infancy—with potentially lifelong effects. These dangers threaten many aspects of children’s health, from their developing lungs to their brainpower and mental health. Socially and economically disadvantaged children are particularly affected, but all children are at risk. “This isn’t just polar bears on melting icebergs,” says study co-author Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Children’s Environmental Health Center. “There is direct damage, now, to children’s health, and certainly their future is in serious jeopardy.”

Policies that move countries away from fossil fuels toward more efficient, renewable energy sources are likely to improve children’s health, the study authors say. Health professionals must also recognize and learn about the health risks of climate change to better help their young patients. “We know how to do it; we know alternatives and they are working in different countries,” says Perera. “We just have to speed up the process…and implement the solutions that we know work.”

Here are three big threats stemming from climate change and threatening every child in the world, according to new research.

Polluted air

Air pollution affects children’s health in many ways. Through exposure to polluted air, children breathe in fine particles created when cars, factories, and other sources burn fossil fuels. Fetal exposure to air pollution during the mother’s pregnancy has also been linked to low birth weight, premature birth, and stillbirth; scientists hypothesize that it may be because air pollution can trigger inflammation that makes it harder for nutrition to reach the fetus, says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and acting director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Environment. Global Environment at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (not involved in the new study). “Particle pollution is a source of infant death, including stillbirths and infancy,” says Bernstein. Air pollution can also harm the growth and function of children’s lungs and put them at higher risk for conditions such as respiratory infections, bronchitis and asthma.

Other research suggests that air pollution can negatively affect the minds of children from the womb. A pregnant mother’s exposure to particulate air pollution “can be directly toxic to the developing brain” of her fetus, Perera says. “They are able to cross the placenta.” A research review published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology in 2020 includes numerous studies linking air pollution exposure to lower cognitive function in children. Other research has found associations between pollution exposure and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Pollutants also contribute to climate change, which, in turn, increases air pollution by fueling many of the conditions that lead to wildfires, including heat and drought. And higher temperatures are thought to contribute to the buildup of ozone, a pollutant that damages the lungs and worsens conditions like asthma.

Less nutritious foods

Climate change is undermining one of the building blocks for growing children: healthy eating. Extreme weather events that destroy food crops, such as droughts, floods and higher temperatures, are becoming more common. These can drive up the price of food and make it more scarce. Even when children have enough to eat, they may not have the right nutrients; Emerging research shows that high levels of carbon dioxide can make food less nutritious.

Getting enough calories and essential nutrients is critical to ensuring that children grow up healthy. If children are malnourished, “their brains don’t develop normally,” says Bernstein. “It affects all organs.”

Global hunger is already very common and experts predict that it will get worse. In 2021, around 193 million people suffered from acute food insecurity, which the United Nations defines as food insufficiency that threatens lives or livelihoods, and around 26 million children suffered from wasting, a condition in which children They are heavy enough for their height. , according to the World Food Program.

more trauma

A world altered by climate change is more dangerous for children. Famines, droughts and extreme weather events are becoming more common as a consequence of climate change, as are the violent interpersonal conflicts such disasters tend to generate; for example, drought caused by climate change is believed to have contributed to the outbreak of the 2011 war in Syria. On a warmer planet, children are more likely to be exposed to trauma, including displacement; Globally, around 2.4 million children were displaced by natural disasters alone in 2021, according to UNICEF.

Experiencing major childhood trauma is thought to increase the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, as well as physical conditions such as cancer, asthma, and stroke. Stress in pregnant women can also harm the cognitive development of the fetus.

“If your house burns or is flooded by a hurricane, if you become impoverished because your family’s livelihood has been destroyed by the drought, these are adverse childhood events,” says Bernstein, “and they can build up and cause damage to long of life. ”

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