The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement urges pediatricians and politicians to work together to protect children from climate-related threats including natural disasters, heat stress, lower air quality, increased infections, and threats to food and water supplies.
Children in the world’s poorest countries, where the disease burden is already disproportionately high, are most affected by climate change, the statement said.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 88 per cent of the existing burden of disease attributable to climate change occurs in children younger than 5 years old.
Climate change poses a threat to human health and safety, but children are uniquely vulnerable. Failure to take prompt, substantive action would be an act of injustice to all children, the policy statement said.
“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,” said Samantha Ahdoot, lead author of the policy statement. “They are also more vulnerable to the secondary impacts of global warming, like disease,” Ahdoot said.
A technical report accompanying the AAP policy statement offered a review of the latest scientific evidence linking climate change to child health, development, wellbeing and nutrition.
According to the report, infants less than one year of age are uniquely vulnerable to heat-related mortality, with one study projecting an increase in infant heat-related deaths by 5.5 per cent in females and 7.8 per cent in males by the end of the 21st Century.
Climate influences a number of infectious diseases that affect children across the world, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Chikungunya, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, diarrhoeal illness, Amebic Meningoencephalitis and Coccidioidomycosis, the report said.
In 2030, climate change is projected to cause an additional 48,000 deaths attributable to diarrhoeal disease in children younger than 15 years old, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
High rates of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been found in children following climate-related disasters, including hurricanes and floods, according to the report.