It gets hot outside, which is bad news for children’s health

Heat waves are getting hotter and hotter as air pollution rates have risen, putting children’s health at risk, according to an extensive new report.

An article in the June 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reviews current research on an extensive inventory of how air pollution and climate change affect people’s health, especially children. He studied the link between fossil fuel emissions and various effects of climate change, including extreme weather events; forest fires; vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika and Lyme disease; and heat waves, a topic that is on the minds of many people.

This month, for example, the highest temperatures in the United States have affected more than 100 million people and affected places along the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, the Southwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest.

In Texas, Austin has already experienced an eight-day temperature surge of more than 100 degrees in June, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

These models are an important reality to consider, said Frederica Perera, lead author of the article. “My concern is that the threats are rising as the temperature rises,” Perera, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told KHN. “Temperatures are rising because greenhouse gas emissions are rising, which is a major concern for everyone’s health, but especially for the most vulnerable.”

Children fall into this category, wrote Perera and its author, Dr. Kari Nadeau, because their ability to regulate temperature, known as thermoregulation, is not fully developed.

They also suffer from heat-related stress because they are smaller and need to drink and eat more often to stay healthy, Perera said. But “to provide small children with dependent parents, sometimes their needs are neglected,” he said.

The authors note that heat-related illnesses are “the leading and growing cause of death and illness among student athletes” in the United States. In addition, they have cited research suggesting that “heat-related climate change” is detrimental to mental health. children and adolescents, as well as the ability to learn.

The review article noted previous research on “low birth weight or risk of prenatal birth; hyperthermia and death among children; and heat stress, kidney disease, and other illnesses” among children.

“Being pregnant is inherently very physiologically severe, and then the heat causes extra stress on the pregnant woman,” said Dr. Robert Dubrow, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, who was unrelated to the research. “And the fetus can also suffer from heat stress, which can have detrimental effects on childbirth.”

And these heat-related risks are generally greater for “low-income communities and communities of color,” the authors of the new article wrote.

Emissions of fossil fuels have greatly increased carbon dioxide emissions over the past 70 years, according to the article. “Modeling indicates that without climate change, some heat waves would be very unlikely to occur,” he says.

The authors briefly describe the solutions they describe as “climate and environmental strategies” that “should also be seen as essential to public health policy.” In addition to mitigating fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, they offered a variety of ways to protect children – steps they call “adaptation measures” – including providing clean water to children and families who are drought or polluting water, and creating areas for children in the shade. . play, live and go to school.

Separately, Austin-based research has highlighted the importance of this step.

The researchers monitored the level and location of physical activity of students between the ages of 8 and 10 at the 2019 three elementary schools during the break. During the two weeks of September, the hottest month of the school year, the activity during the children’s breaks was compared to the cooler week of November. . “We wanted to understand the impact of outdoor temperatures on children’s playground environments in school playgrounds,” said Kevin Lanza, lead researcher on “the design of future school-based physical activity interventions in the face of climate change.”

In warmer times, he said, “children did less physical activity and sought shade.”

As temperatures continue to rise, he said schools need to be flexible to ensure that students do the exercise they need every day. “Schools should consider adding shade by planting artificial structures that cover trees or cover spaces for physical activity,” said Lanza, an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health. He also noted that school policies could be updated so that breaks could be scheduled at cooler times of the day and moved in during extreme heat periods.

But the general need to protect children from scorching weather patterns calls for action beyond those steps, Perera said, and more climate and clean air policies need to be put in place.

“Governments have a responsibility to protect the population and especially the most vulnerable, especially children,” Perera said. “Actions must be taken immediately because we are heading in the completely wrong direction.”

This article was republished on khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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