Environment, climate change & children’s health

Environment, climate change & children’s health

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 universal targets that will provide a roadmap for the future of international development. Viewed as a more comprehensive extension to replace the soon to expire Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs will be adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. Over the years, the mainstream conversation around the development goals has more markedly emphasized the role of the environment and climate change. These are underlying factors that will dictate the degree of success for the areas these development goals will address – poverty alleviation, improved maternal health and child health, reduced malnutrition, access to clean water, etc. Amongst the ambitious 17 goals you’ll find that Goal 13 emphasizes the need to “Protect the Planet” against the effects of climate change.

Sustainable Development Goal 13 Protect the Planet
Sustainable Development Goal 13: Protect the Planet.


At the Children’s Prize, our focus is to advance the survival of children under five. Within the context of environmental impacts and climate change, children are one of the first vulnerable populations that feel the effects of climate change, both directly and indirectly. But what makes children so vulnerable to changes in climate and environmental exposure and susceptible to disease? They have immature immune and central nervous systems that makes them more likely to experience infections and developmental problems. They have little to no control of their environment, generally have a smaller body mass to surface area ratio and require more water and nutrients per unit of weight. Not only can they consume high amounts of toxins and infectious agents, but they are significantly more susceptible to the negative effects of these exposures when compared to adults.

What are some current examples of climate related issues that affect children?

Climate change affects the geographic distribution and life cycle of vector organisms, such as rats and mosquitoes, and pathogens, such as malaria and schistosomiasis. These pathogens disproportionately affect children, especially in low resource countries such as Africa, where a child dies every minute from malaria. Changes in geographic distribution may cause mosquito populations to shift, bringing more malaria to one country while decreasing the malaria in previously affected countries. This could present a major problem, especially if countries are not equipped to handle diseases such as malaria. A lot more children may die as a result.

On the road in Karachi, Pakistan.
On the road in Karachi, Pakistan.


Agriculture and the availability of crops is a significant source of livelihood in many low resource areas. Mild climatic changes during growing and harvesting seasons can drastically affect crop yields. This can further impact the rates of childhood malnutrition, childhood mortality and morbidity. Childhood malnutrition remains one of the leading causes of death in children under five years of age, worldwide.

Wars and violent conflicts can and have been shown to occur simultaneousness following times of disease, starvation, drought, loss of habitat, and loss of natural resources. Low resources that are further strained by environmental factors, coupled with mass migrations can lead to internal political and social conflicts. Children are some of the first casualties of violence both directly through wounds and indirectly by starvation, dehydration, poor healthcare.

The table below demonstrates some environmental related exposures that have been associated with negative health outcomes in children. Children are highly affected by the physical environment in which they live and breathe.

 Table 1. Impact of climate change on children’s health. Xu, Zhiwei, et al.
Table 1. Impact of climate change on children’s health. Xu, Zhiwei, et al. “Climate change and children’s health—A call for research on what works to protect children.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9.9 (2012): 3298-3316.


And as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals and transition into the Sustainable Development Goals, we must make take into consideration the direct and indirect effect of climate on children. Newborns, infants and children will be at a greater risk to poor health as a result of climate change. December of 2015 will hopefully mark the date of a historic international collaboration for better health, more sustainability, and a healthier planet. The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France and under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon will be primarily focused on achieving a binding, universal, agreement on climate. We must ensure that child health is not left out of the discussion and the binding document. The impacts of climate change and environmental hazards on child health are already apparent throughout scientific literature. It’s important to act now, the future of child health and global public health in general will be significantly impacted in the years to come.


#Paris2015 #ActOnClimate #COPA12


McMichael, Tony, Hugh Montgomery, and Anthony Costello. “Health risks, present and future, from global climate change.” BMJ 344 (2012): e1359.

Sheffield, Perry E., and Philip J. Landrigan. “Global Climate Change and Children as Health: Threats and Strategies for Prevention.” Environmental health perspectives 119.3 (2010): 291-298.

Xu, Zhiwei, et al. “Climate change and children’s health—A call for research on what works to protect children.” International journal of environmental research and public health 9.9 (2012): 3298-3316.



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