How does climate change affect children's health? New program explains
Effects climate change has on the health of children, including increasing risks of asthma, Lyme disease, and heat stroke, are being highlighted in a new Ontario public health initiative.
The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) rolled out “Make It Better,” which will teach parents and caregivers how to protect children who are disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of climate change.
OPHA executive director Pegeen Walsh told CTV News Channel that the program is the first of its kind in Ontario, saying “so often, we hear about the environmental impacts and people are feeling very disempowered.”
The goal of the program is to “empower parents” and also provide them information and tools to act on climate change within their communities.
The World Health Organization has described climate change has the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Walsh said “Make It Better” was necessary considering increasing and overwhelming evidence.
Research shows longer, drier summers can trigger asthma, which is one of the leading reasons why children are admitted into hospitals, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Children would be among the most vulnerable when the Greater Toronto Area is projected to experience 30 extreme heat days annually between 2021 and 2050, and over 50 extreme heat days by 2080, according to educational resource Climate Atlas of Canada.
Toronto Public Health reported that heat-related mortality could double to 240 people per year by 2050.
'Make it Better' will show parents how to be cognizant of smog warnings and air-quality levels when their children are playing outdoors.
Other troublesome effects of climate change for parents include Lyme disease-carrying tick populations that are spreading beyond their traditional breeding grounds because climate change is making new regions warmer.
“(Ticks are) moving further north and living longer and we’ve seen an increase in the cases of Lyme disease,” Walsh said. “And children five and nine (years old) are particularly vulnerable.”
She explained that this is both because children are more likely to be out playing in the forest and their immune systems aren’t fully developed.
“If you’re looking at something like Lyme disease, it’s a matter of making sure (caregivers) use bug spray and that children are covered (head) to toe,” Walsh said, adding that children should be checked for bites after being outside.