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FROMpersonal changes affect everyone, but especially children. Their small bodies – and the fact that they grow so fast from the time they are in the womb – make them more vulnerable to toxins, pollution and other effects of climate change. Throughout their lives, children are also more exposed to the negative impacts of climate change than adults.

new scientific review article published in New England Journal of Medicine shows how dangerous climate-related threats are to children’s health. The researchers analyzed data on the specific effects of a rapidly warming planet and found that climate change, driven in large part by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, is harming the mental and physical health of children from the moment they are in the womb. childhood, with potentially lifelong consequences. These dangers threaten many aspects of children’s health, from their lung development to their intellectual abilities and their mental health. Socially and economically disadvantaged children are particularly affected, but all children are at risk. “It’s not just polar bears on melting icebergs,” says study co-author Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “Children’s health is being directly harmed now, and their future is certainly under serious threat.”

The authors of the study say that policies that shift countries from fossil fuels to renewable, more efficient energy sources are likely to improve children’s health. Healthcare professionals also need to be aware and aware of the health risks associated with climate change in order to better care for their young patients. “We know how to do it; we know the alternatives and they work in different countries,” says Perera. “We just need to speed up the process… and implement solutions that we know work.”

Here are the three big threats posed by climate change to all children around the world, according to a new study.

Contaminated air

Air pollution affects children’s health in many ways. As a result of exposure to polluted air, children breathe in fine particulate matter produced when cars, factories and other sources burn fossil fuels. Exposure to air pollution to the fetus during maternal pregnancy has also been associated with low birth weight, preterm birth and stillbirth; scientists suggest this may be because air pollution can lead to inflammation that prevents nutrition from reaching the fetus, says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, pediatrician and interim director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University. . Chan School of Public Health (which was not involved in the new study). “Particulate pollution is a source of infant mortality, including stillbirth and death in infancy,” says Bernstein. Air pollution can also harm growth and lung function in children and put them at higher risk for conditions such as respiratory infections, bronchitis and asthma.

Other studies show that air pollution can negatively affect children’s minds from in utero. An expectant mother’s exposure to air pollution particles “can be directly toxic to the developing brain” of her fetus, Perera says. “They are able to pass through the placenta.” One study review published in Cognitive and behavioral neuroscience in 2020 includes numerous studies that link air pollution exposure to cognitive decline in children. Other studies have found associations between exposure to pollution and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Pollutants also contribute to climate change, which in turn increases air pollution, fueling many of the conditions that cause wildfires, including heat and drought. Higher temperatures are thought to contribute to the formation of ozone, a pollutant that damages the lungs and worsens conditions like asthma.

Less nutritious food

Climate change is undermining one of the main building blocks for growing children: healthy eating. Extreme weather events that destroy food crops, including droughts, floods and rising temperatures, are becoming more frequent. They can raise food prices and make it less frequent. Even when children have enough to eat, they may still lack nutrients; emerging research work shows that high levels of carbon dioxide can make food less nutritious.

Getting enough calories and essential nutrients is critical to ensuring that children grow up healthy. If children are malnourished, “their brains don’t develop normally,” says Bernstein. “It affects every organ.”

Global hunger is already very common, and experts predict what will be worse. In 2021, about 193 million people suffered from severe food insecurity, defined by the United Nations as food insecurity that threatens lives or livelihoods, and about 26 million children suffered from malnutrition, a condition in which children do not weigh enough for their height . , according to World Food Program.

More injuries

A world changed by climate change is more dangerous for children. Famines, droughts and extreme weather events are becoming more common as a result of climate change, as are the violent interpersonal conflicts that tend to spawn such disasters; for example, drought caused by climate change, allegedly contributed to the start of the war in Syria in 2011.. On a hotter planet, children are more likely to be traumatized, including displaced; worldwide, about 2.4 million children were displaced by natural disasters alone in 2021, according to UNICEF.

Believed to survive major trauma in childhood increase the risk for both mental illnesses like depression and physical conditions like cancer, asthma and stroke. Stress in expectant mothers can also harm their fetal cognitive development.

“If your house burned down or was flooded by a hurricane, if you were impoverished because your family’s livelihood was destroyed by a drought, these are adverse childhood events,” Bernstein says, “and they can accumulate and cause damage throughout a lifetime.” . ”

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