Study: This is how climate change affects children’s wellbeing

An Iraqi boy rides a buffalo in the Diyala River in the Faziliah district, east of Baghdad on August 2, 2021, amid extreme summer temperatures. - As Iraq bakes under a blistering summer heat wave, its hard-scrabble farmers and herders are battling severe water shortages that are killing their animals, fields and way of life.

Photo credit: Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Studies indicate a 4-7 per cent reduction in academic achievement with temperature increases of two to four degrees Celsius

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a United States public organisation, recently released a report outlining the dire health implications of climate change for children, including elevated rates of respiratory diseases, reduced academic performance, increased infection rates, and a heightened risk of housing insecurity in coastal cities.

“Children have unique vulnerabilities,” said Jeremy Martinich, the chief of the EPA’s Science and Impacts Branch and a co-author of the report. “This report is really intended to provide a new level of specificity about some of these risks.”

One significant risk outlined in the report is the increase in extreme heat waves, which could detrimentally impact children’s health and education.

Martinich elaborated: “When exposed to higher temperatures, children have more difficulty concentrating and learning in the classroom.”

The report reveals that for each 1 degree Fahrenheit increase from May to September, emergency department visits at US children’s hospitals can escalate by 113 visits per day.

Furthermore, studies indicate a four per cent to seven per cent reduction in academic achievement with temperature increases of two to four degrees Celsius. This could decrease future income for graduating students by as much as $18.3 billion.

Another major concern is housing instability. The increasing frequency of flooding due to rising sea levels puts children in coastal/ lake areas at risk of temporary or permanent displacement from their homes.
Martinich emphasised the severity of the threat.

“Under each different level of future rising sea level, there’s a whole new population that has been exposed [to flooding] in some parts of the country,” he said.

The detrimental effects of climate change also pose a risk to children’s mental and physical development by limiting their ability to play outside.

The report showed that longer warm seasons lead to increased severity and duration of pollen allergies, which in turn have been linked with higher rates of asthma, eczema, hay fever, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Martinich noted: “We’re trying to empower caregivers and parents to be more aware of the risks.”