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Doctors: Climate change major child health risk

Doctors warn climate change a major risk for children's health

Paediatricians and other senior doctors have called for strong action on climate change in a sobering article just released in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

“Runaway climate change is a real and urgent threat to the wellbeing of New Zealand’s children,” says Dr Rhys Jones, one of the authors of the paper.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to climate change. In New Zealand an increase in extreme weather events is likely to result as we fail to respond adequately to climate change. Children spend more time outdoors and are physically smaller and less strong than adults. These factors place children at higher risk from extremes of heat and natural disasters such as flooding. Our Maori and Pacific children are especially at risk from climate change," says Dr Jones.

"There is a silver lining to this dark cloud, though. With strong policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are designed to spread costs and benefits equitably across society, there are potential positive spin-offs for our children’s health."

One example given in the paper of such a benefit is housing insulation. Current government programmes to insulate older houses could be improved to ensure the homes of the poorest children are both energy efficient and healthy – decreasing childhood asthma and chest infections which are leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Maori and Pacific children.

The child health specialists who wrote this paper are joined by a growing movement of doctors around the world who see climate change as the greatest threat to health facing the world this century.

"Responses to climate change can be designed to help with other goals, including healthier people, a more equal society and a healthier economy," says Dr Jones

Hosking J, Jones R, Percival T, Turner N, Ameratunga S. Climate change: The implications for child health in Australasia. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 2010 (online preview at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123339026/abstract)

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Background notes

The Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health is the official journal of the Paediatrics and Child Health Division (The Royal Australasian College of Physicians) in affiliation with the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand, the Paediatric Research Society of Australia and the Australasian Association of Paediatric Surgeons, and publishes original research articles of scientific excellence in paediatrics and child health. Further details are available at http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=1034-4810&site=1.

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngati Kahungunu) is a public health medicine specialist at the University of Auckland. He co-convenes OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health.

Children are acknowledged to be particularly vulnerable to many effects of climate change, including temperature extremes, natural disasters and reduced availability of safe and healthy water and food. Children in low-income households are particularly likely to suffer from price rises for energy and food, which would push more families into fuel poverty and food insecurity. But some strategies that address climate change offer particular benefits for children. These include better and more energy efficient housing, more active and sustainable transport, and ensuring the availability of healthy and affordable food.

Leading medical bodies throughout the world are saying that politicians must heed health effects of climate change, doctors must speak out, and doctors demand their politicians be decisive, listen to the clear facts and act now. OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health is part of this international movement, and consists of more than a hundred NZ senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about climate change impacts on health and health services.

The group continues to gather support from individual health professionals and professional bodies, and have published a number of articles about climate change and health in peer-review medical journals, which can be found on its website www.orataiao.org.nz. OraTaiao's messages include:

1. Climate change is a threat to the wellbeing of New Zealanders

2. To meet this threat, we must join with other countries in halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020

3. We can and must respond to climate change in ways that also improve the health of our people, create a more equitable society, and lead to a healthier economy.


ENDS

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