Children are most vulnerable to the health risks associated with climate related disasters

Children are most vulnerable to the health risks associated with climate related disasters

A new report published in PLoS One Medicine has revealed that infants and children are far more vulnerable to the health effects of climate related disasters than adults.

The research, conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, highlighted specific challenges that children face from climate disasters.

Madeleine Thomson, PhD, a research scholar in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and a faculty member in the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia’s Earth Institute commented:

“Because of their anatomic, cognitive, immunologic, and psychological differences, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to climate change-related events like floods, droughts, and heatwaves than adults”

The small surface-to-body ratio of infants and children are particularly vulnerable to heat stress and dehydration, the report finds. During periods of extreme heat children are more likely to suffer from respiratory disease, kidney disease, fever and electrolyte imbalance.  

Heat waves have also been proven to worsen air pollution which impacts children more severely than adults because their immune and respiratory systems are less developed and they breath at a faster rate than adults.

The report also highlights that hotter temperatures expand the range of vector borne diseases, such as the Zika virus, which can have devastating effects on children and infants.

Extreme weather events such as hurricanes also have disproportionate health implications for children. For example, following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico medical teams reported increases in gastroenteritis, asthma and skin infections. Children were also more at risk of contracting dengue fever and chikungunya.

Similarly, drought can have detrimental impacts on childhood development through the increased food insecurity and dietary changes they cause. Droughts are also closely linked to conflict and forced migration, the report highlights, which can also increase the vulnerability of children to a number health problems.

The study recommends an international consortium of experts is established to develop protocols that address the child-specific needs of climate related natural disasters.


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