Climate change to affect children's health



Child with inhaler

Credit: Phyllis Buchanan

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Increasing numbers of children will be hospitalised over the next decade with respiratory problems as a direct result of projected climate change, a new study has suggested.

The connection between climate change-related air pollution, in the form of ozone, and the health of children was reported by a team of US researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

While ozone in the Earth's upper atmosphere is important in filtering harmful UV rays, ozone at ground level is considered a pollutant. It has many known negative respiratory health effects to which children are particularly vulnerable.

An important projected consequence of climate change is an increase in this ground level ozone, as greater quantities of it will form from precursor pollutants as the Earth's temperature increases. Urban areas will be at a higher risk of increasing temperature compared to rural areas, but downwind suburban areas are predicted to experience the highest ozone levels.

The researchers created a model describing future projected rates of respiratory hospitalisations for children under two years of age, focusing on America's New York City as an example.

They found that by 2020, respiratory hospitalisations would likely to rise between four and seven percent for these children due to a projected increase in ozone precursors.

"These significant changes in childrens' hospitalisations from respiratory illnesses would be a direct result of projected climate-change effects on ground-level ozone concentrations," said Perry Elizabeth Sheffield, lead researcher and Pediatric Environmental Health Fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"This research is important because it shows that we...need to implement policies that both improve air quality and also prevent climate change because this could improve health in the present and prevent worsening respiratory illness in the future," she said.

Study co-author Philip Landrigan, Director of the School's Children's Environmental Health Center, agreed.

"Our study supports the necessity of improving air pollution around the world. We need to begin to make these improvements through industry emission controls, traffic reduction policies and increased enforcement of traffic regulations."