Children’s Health in a Changing Climate
Minnesotans celebrate Spring and Summer – our warm seasons mean a lot to us here in cold country. Of course winters in recent decades aren’t as cold, or as long. Our changing climate means that Minnesota’s average temperature is rising ½ degree F per decade and winter temps are up a full degree per decade since the 70’s. Warming is not uniform; northern MN, like the Arctic, is getting hotter quicker. Warming trends are reflected in our growing and pollen seasons, now about a month longer than in the late 90’s. As a result the incidence and prevalence of allergies and asthma are steadily rising. We can expect more days over 90o with higher dew points. Higher temperatures increase ozone concentrations especially in communities located near industrial areas. Climate Change means more wildfires that generate toxic micro-particulates that are widely dispersed.
These developments disproportionately affect children’s health (1). Children spend more time outdoors, have higher respiratory and metabolic rates. Their developing brains and bodies are more sensitive to the effects of environmental stresses and toxins. It has been estimated that 90% of the global disease burden related to climate change is borne by children under 5. Tick populations are up throughout MN and not surprisingly so are the incidence of Lyme Disease and other vector-borne infections (2). Boys 5-9 are the highest risk group for Lyme disease MDH).
Extreme rain events (>6” of rain over >1000 sq mi) are becoming more frequent in MN (3) and wash chemical pollutants, garbage, human and animal wastes (from over-whelmed septic systems, treatment plants and large manure ponds) into surface waters sharply raising the risk of diarrheal illnesses. Indoor mold contributes to respiratory infections. Children are more vulnerable to trauma, drownings or displacement from families. Anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD are common in children who have experienced weather disasters. Resumption of school may be delayed for weeks to months.
Physicians can help in a number of ways: by working with local health departments to review emergency plans in light of weather extremes; helping educate elected officials and communities about the health effects of our changing climate; and advocating for sustainability planning. For more information, see reference 1.
- Special Focus: Climate Change and Children; http://climatehealthconnect.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Children.pdf
- Disease Risk in a Dynamic Environment: The Spread of Tick-Borne Pathogens in Minnesota, USA; Robinson, S et al; EcoHealth DOI: 10.1007/s10393-014-0979-y
- MN DNR Climate Summaries; http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/summaries_and_publications/mega_rain_events.htm