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Heat waves are becoming hotter and more frequent due to rising levels of air pollution, putting the health of children at risk, widespread new report finds.

A June 15 article in the New England Journal of Medicine provides an overview of current research that is taking a broad inventory of how air pollution and climate change interact to adversely affect the health of people, especially children. It examined the relationship between fossil fuel emissions and various impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events; Forest fires; vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika virus and Lyme disease; and heat waves, a topic that is central to many people’s minds.

This month, for example, record high temperatures have been reported in the United States, have affected more than 100 million people, and have spread from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, the Southwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest.

In Texas, Austin has already experienced eight-day temperature band above the 100-degree mark in June, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

These models are an important reality to be noted, said Frederic Perera, lead author of the article. “What worries me is that the threats are rising as temperatures rise,” said KHN Perera, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Temperatures are rising due to rising greenhouse gas emissions and this is a major health concern for everyone, but especially for the most vulnerable.”

Children fit into this category, wrote Perera and her co-author, Dr. Kari Nadobecause their ability to regulate temperature, known as thermoregulation, is not fully developed.

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

The authors note that heat-related illness is “a leading and growing cause of death and illness among student-athletes” in the US. In addition, they cited studies suggesting that “climate change heat” affects children and adolescents’ mental health and learning ability.

The review article states previous research work this linked in utero heat wave exposure to “increased risk of preterm birth or low birth weight, hyperthermia, and death among infants, and heat stress, kidney disease, and other diseases” among children.

“Pregnancy itself is very demanding on the physiology, and then the heat creates additional stress for the pregnant woman,” she said. Dr. Robert Dubrow, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, who was not involved in any of the studies. “And the fetus can also experience heat stress, which can lead to adverse birth outcomes.”

And these heat-related risks are across the board higher for “low-income communities and communities of color,” write the authors of a new paper.

According to the article, carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased dramatically over the past 70 years. Modeling shows that some heatwaves would be extremely unlikely in the absence of climate change.

The authors briefly describe what they describe as “climate and environmental strategies”, which “should also be seen as an important public health policy”. In addition to massive efforts to reduce fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions, they have proposed various ways to protect children — steps they call “adaptation measures” — that have included providing clean water to children and families facing drought or water pollution, and creating shaded zones where children play, live and go to school.

Separately, Study in Austin underlined why this step could be significant.

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

During hotter periods, he said, “children moved less and looked for shade.”

As temperatures continue to rise, schools need to be flexible to make sure students get the daily exercise they need, he said. “Schools should consider adding shade by planting trees or installing man-made structures that cover spaces dedicated to physical activity,” said Lanza, an assistant professor at UTHealth’s School of Public Health. He also noted that school policy could be updated so that breaks are scheduled during cooler times of the day and moved inside during heatwaves.

But the general need to protect children from scorching weather calls for action beyond such steps, Perera said, and more action needs to be taken on climate and clean air.

“Governments have a responsibility to protect the population, especially the most vulnerable, including children,” Perera said. “Action must be taken immediately because we are heading in absolutely the wrong direction.”




Kaiser Health NewsThis article has been reprinted from khn.org courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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