A leading organization of American pediatricians declared Monday that children are "uniquely vulnerable" to the harmful impacts of human-made climate change—from natural disasters to food insecurity—and called for doctors to fulfill their duty by aggressively addressing the crisis.
In a policy statement entitled Global Climate Change and Children's Health, published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—an association of 64,000 pediatricians—noted, "Because of their physical, physiologic, and cognitive immaturity, children are often most vulnerable to adverse health effects from environmental hazards."
"Children are uniquely at risk to the direct impacts of climate changes like climate-related disaster—including floods and storms—where they are exposed to increased risk of injury, death, loss of or separation from caregivers and mental health consequences," explained Samantha Ahdoot, MD, lead author of the policy statement. "They are also more vulnerable to the secondary impacts of global warming, like disease."
"For example, Lyme disease affects approximately 300,000 Americans each year, with boys, ages 5 to 9, at greatest risk," Ahdoot continued. "Climate warming has been linked to northern expansion of Lyme disease in North America, putting more American children at risk of this disease."
A technical report accompanying the policy statement notes numerous other disturbing developments, including high rates of post-traumatic stress among children as a result of climate related extreme weather, including hurricanes and floods.
In addition, children under the age of one are particularly vulnerable to heat-related deaths, which one study predicts will increase by 5.5 percent for females and 7.8 percent for males by the end of the century.
"Children in the world's poorest countries, where the disease burden is already disproportionately high, are most affected by climate change," researchers found.
The AAP's findings are not the first of their kind. The World Health Organization stated in 2008 that over 88 percent of climate-related disease is borne by children under the age of five.
What's more, studies show that, within wealthy countries, the health impacts of climate change are disproportionately borne by low-income communities of color. For example, a University of Minnesota study published last year found that people of color in the United States suffer nearly 40 percent more exposure to toxic air pollution than their white counterparts.
Mounting evidence of the vulnerability of children and infants inspired parents and grandparents from around the world to launch a coalition this month to demand climate solutions for young people. These parents, and youth from around the world, are expected to converge at the COP21 meeting in Paris in November and December to demand aggressive action.
AAP is urging pediatricians to join in the push for solutions.
"Every child needs a safe and healthy environment and climate change is a rising public health threat to all children in this country and around the world," said AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD. "Pediatricians have a unique and powerful voice in this conversation due to their knowledge of child health and disease and their role in ensuring the health of current and future children."