Boys Exploring

Children's Health in a Changing Climate

Did you know?

  • Children ages 5-9 have the highest annual incidence of Lyme disease in the United States.
  • Preschool children have twice the amount of asthma-related emergency department visits and overnight hospital stays as older kids.

The impacts of a changing climate, from more extreme weather events to changes in seasonal patterns, have consequences for our health. Children are more vulnerable to risks associated with weather and a changing climate due to several factors – they generally spend more time outside than adults, they have different physiology and metabolism than adults, and they are dependent upon caregivers.  

Despite these risks, there are proven mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors. Parents and caregivers can help minimize risks and maximize benefits by understanding and preparing for weather and climate-related risks.

Allergies and Asthma

A warming climate has led to earlier springs and longer growing seasons for many plants. These changes have increased the length and intensity of the pollen season in some parts of the United States, which can increase allergy and asthma episodes.

Warmer temperatures also promote the production of more ground level ozone, which is a known trigger for asthma attacks in some children. While asthma may be associated with genetic factors, the changing environment and increased air pollution could also be contributing factors to the development of the disease.

What you can do: Check the air quality forecast. If air quality is poor and your child suffers from asthma, consider rescheduling sports games and other outdoor activities for another day. If you do go outside, aim for early morning or evening hours, when air pollution levels and pollen levels are likely to be lower.

Extreme Heat

The number of extreme heat events in the United States continues to rise and climate projections indicate that these events will be more frequent and intense in coming decades. Children do not adapt to heat as efficiently as adults, and often rely on adults to help them stay cool and hydrated during hot weather.

What you can do: Help children stay hydrated, stay cool and dress for the weather. Learn more about preventing heat-related illness from CDC.

Insect-spread Diseases

The most common insect-spread diseases are distributed by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. These diseases include Lyme disease, Dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. As the climate becomes warmer, these insects are able to expand their ranges, potentially exposing more people to infection. Children are more susceptible to insect bites because they generally spend more time outdoors than adults and are dependent upon adults to take preventative measures. 

What you can do: Cover up exposed skin when spending time outside and use insect repellents to prevent bites. EPA offers tips for using insect repellents safely and effectively

Sources:

  • CDC. 2012. “Asthma Control for Preschoolers…CDC Helps Make it as Easy as A B C!” Accessed October 2, 2018, http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/abc.htm
  • CDC. 2014. “Climate and Health: Allergens.” October 2, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/allergen.htm
  • Dosanjh, A. 2011. Childhood Asthma and Anthropogenic CO­2 emissions. Journal of Asthma and Allergy. 4: 103-105. Accessed October 16, 2015. http://doi.org/10.2147/JAA.S24565
  • Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment. 2014. “Climate Change and the Health of Children.” Accessed October 2, 2018, http://web.archive.org/web/20150306051053/http://www.chgeharvard.org/topic/climate-change-and-health-children
  • NCA. 2014. “Human Health.” October 2, 2018, http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/human-health
  • Sheffield, P., Landrigan, P. 2011. Global Climate Change and Children’s Health: Threats and Strategies for Prevention. Environmental Health Perspectives. 119, 291-298. Accessed October 2, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1002233
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