Presenters: Hilary Lin, MD, and Stephanie Kwon, DO
The PHM 2023 presenters started by describing the daunting trajectory of continuous global warming that would lead to catastrophic and irrevocable changes to the essential components of the Earth system by 2100. These ongoing changes pose major threats to the health, well-being, and future of children who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of global warming. The ramification of these changes starts before conception and persists throughout pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. Children’s vulnerability to the repercussions of climate change arises due to multiple factors. Their physiological differences and baseline metabolism, higher exposure per unit body weight, behavior, and extended future lifespan render them more susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
The presenters described the health impacts of common natural disasters like extreme heat, wildfires, and flooding, which have recently dominated the news headlines. The current U.S. map revealed a concerning reality—nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population resides in counties vulnerable to health threats by unexpectedly high summer temperatures. This year, the U.S. has seen a surge in heat-related fatalities and illnesses like dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. As the global temperature rises, wildfires are increasing around the globe. The resulting wildfire smoke is a mixture of hazardous air pollutants, such as particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller (PM 2.5), NO2, ozone, aromatic hydrocarbons, and lead. These pollutants exert detrimental effects on children in numerous ways. Notably, PM 2.5, one of the most harmful components of wildfires, can infiltrate the deep respiratory tract due to its minuscule size and carries harmful substances like transition metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, further exacerbating children’s health concerns.
The impacts of rising sea levels and heavy precipitation are also evident, leading to widespread flooding across various regions globally. Many U.S. states have experienced catastrophic flooding in 2023. Floodwater poses dangers to human health, which can be categorized based on time intervals following the flood event. The intervals range from immediate risks to those emerging within the first 10 days post-flooding and extend beyond 10 days.
The presenters delved into various mitigation strategies applicable during natural disasters. They focused on advocacy measures that we, as hospitalists, can both implement and promote. The discussion touched on the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement and technical report from 2015 that addresses the issue of climate change. This document underscores the importance of advancing educational opportunities for medical trainees on the current and anticipated effects of climate change. Hospitalists are encouraged to influence change by educating families, leveraging social media for awareness campaigns, engaging with the community, and exploring avenues within their workplace to curtail the carbon footprint of the health care sector.
The culminating recommendation was to advocate for local, national, and international policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, hospitalists are urged to endorse adaptation strategies geared towards enhancing preparedness for the anticipated effects of climate change.
- The effects of human-induced global warming are a current reality, and they are both irreversible and projected to worsen if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions persists.
- Children are disproportionally vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.
- Pediatric hospitalists have an influence in shaping how children, families, legislators, and communities understand climate change and the urgent need to combat it.
Dr. Dingle is a pediatric hospital medicine fellow at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio