Climate change could be making kids sick, scientists say

Written by By Mia Stainsby, CNN

One of the biggest threats facing the planet is climate change. But according to a recent study published in Nature , climate change itself is contributing to worsening mental health conditions in children and youth.

The researchers looked at the impact of pandemics — notably the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 — on mental health among children and young people. Pneumonic outbreaks were another hotspot, and their prevalence was greater than expected.

The finding was significant, given that children and youth are generally more vulnerable to mental health complications from a climate-related pandemic than the general population, the researchers explain in the study.

Researchers also point out that children and youth are particularly susceptible to climate change because they do not experience the strong conventional defenses that adults have against these problems.

Influencing mental health conditions

Mental health conditions are also more often associated with the experience of a mild to moderate climate change than with a severe or catastrophic one.

“Mental health and overall mental health were least affected by severe but moderate climate change, whereas both relatively mild and relatively severe climate change were associated with mental health and overall mental health,” they say.

Though the study only looked at youth and children, the researchers say they believe that the results would be the same across the population.

“This includes people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, such as students, with growing concerns about socio-economic insecurity and job insecurity,” the researchers say.

Influencing risk

While this may seem to suggest the risks related to climate change might be lessened for young people who are “more affluent and stable,” the researchers are not yet certain.

“Although children and youth may be exposed to lesser risk than adults, they also may be exposed to more severe health risks,” says the study.

“Persistent lack of energy, nutrition, employment, and shelter.”

The researchers add that they are not advocating preventing or limiting climate change — but rather, saying that it should be considered as an important risk factor in the overall concern of mental health disorders.

Although the impact of climate change on mental health should be considered as part of the overall concern of mental health disorders, says the study, concerns about global warming should be a top priority for global policymakers.

Though some scientific attention has been focused on lowering the carbon emissions, the researchers say, there is an important need to understand the interaction between climate change and mental health.

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