Air pollution, heat waves put children’s health at risk

AUSTIN, Texas – Hot flashes are getting hotter and more frequent due to rising levels of air pollution, putting children’s health at risk, according to a new broad report.

A June 15 article in the New England Journal of Medicine reviews current research to provide an in-depth inventory of how air pollution and climate change interact to adversely affect human health, especially children’s health. It examines the relationship between fossil fuel emissions and the various effects of climate change – including extreme weather events; Forest fires; vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika and Lyme disease; and hot flashes, a topic at the forefront of many people’s minds.

This month, for example, record high temperatures were reported in the United States, affecting more than 100 million people and touching places from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, the Southwest, the Mid-Atlantic Ocean and the Midwest.

In Texas, Austin has already experienced an eight-day series of temperatures above the 100-degree mark in June, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

And in Philadelphia, AccuWeather meteorologists forecast temperatures in August to average about 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Seasonal temperatures have been above average for 16 of the last 21 summers here, The Inquirer reported in May.

These models are an important reality that should be noted, said Frederica Perera, lead author of the magazine’s article.

“My concern is that the threats increase 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, and this is a major concern for the health of all – but especially the most vulnerable.”

Children fall into this category, writes Perera and her co-author, Dr. Carrie Nado, because their ability to regulate temperature, known as thermoregulation, is not fully developed.

They are also more susceptible to heat stress because they are smaller and need to drink and eat more often to stay healthy, Perera said. But because “young children depend on their parents to provide for them, sometimes their needs are ignored,” she said.

The authors note that heat-related illness is “the leading and growing cause of death and illness among student athletes” in the United States. They also cite research that suggests that “the heat associated with climate change” affects the mental health of children and adolescents, as well as their ability to learn.

The review article cites previous research linking heat wave exposure in the womb to “increased risks of premature birth or low birth weight; hyperthermia and death in infants; and heat stress, kidney disease and other diseases ”among children.

“Pregnancy is very physiologically demanding in itself, and then the heat creates additional stress on the pregnant woman,” said Dr. Robert Dubrow, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health who is not involved in either. studies. “And the fetus may experience heat stress, which can lead to adverse birth results.”

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

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion have risen sharply over the past 70 years, according to the article. “Modeling shows that some heat waves would be extremely unlikely to occur in the absence of climate change,” it said.

The authors briefly outline solutions that they describe as “climate and environmental strategies”, which “should also be seen as a key public health policy”. Beyond large-scale efforts to mitigate fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions, they have proposed various ways to protect children – steps they call “adaptation measures” – which include providing clean water to children and families facing drought or water pollution and creating shady areas where children play, live and go to school.

A separate Austin-based study highlighted why the move could make sense.

The researchers tracked the levels of physical activity and location of students aged 8 to 10 during a vacation at three primary schools in 2019. They compared children’s activity on two-week break in September, the hottest full month of the school year. , with the cooler week in November. “We wanted to understand the impact of outside temperatures on children’s play in the schoolyard,” said Kevin Lanza, lead researcher of the study, to inform the design of “future school interventions for physical activity in the face of climate change.”

During hotter periods, he said, “children were less physically active and sought shade.”

As temperatures continue to rise, he said, schools need to be flexible to ensure that students get the daily exercises they need. “Schools should consider adding shade by planting trees or installing artificial structures that cover spaces for physical activity,” said Lanza, an assistant at UTHealth’s School of Public Health. He also noted that school policies could be updated so that breaks could be planned during the cooler hours of the day and moved inside during periods of extreme heat.

But the overall need to protect children from scorching weather patterns requires 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, especially the most vulnerable, including children,” Perera said. “Action must be taken immediately because we are in the wrong direction.

KHN is a national newsroom that reflects health issues.

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