Thursday, February 28, 2008

No child left behind

Our children of today and those of the future will inevitably face the most severe realities of the health impacts from global climate change. As a result of their cognitive, physical and physiological development patterns, children are more susceptible to adverse health effects from exposure to environmental hazards. We know that climate change has begun and is accelerating at a great pace, increasing the disproportionate rate at which children, compared to other groups, will suffer from these changes. Being that children are dependent on the rest of us to take care of and protect them, their ability to adjust to the many changes ahead should remain our top concern.

However, even if the average American is able to successfully make the linkage between environmental hazards and health, I have found that the real and vital implications that global climate change will have upon children are frequently left out of the many discussions, forums and conferences. Part of this disconnect is due to the fact that key leaders in the pediatric environmental health community are not actively sought out to be a part of the dialogue. We do not hear or read about climatologists talking with pediatric environmental health researchers in an effort to unify their social and policy recommendations. Policy solutions are being debated without the vital inclusion of core advocates for children’s health — and this is a mistake.

We in the public health community have a few challenges before us in this area. First, I believe most Americans are still trying to wrap their hands around the concept of global climate change and how it has come to be. Second, while I feel this number is diminishing, we are still dealing with those that believe climate change is either not real or so beyond our control that steps toward sustainability are useless. Third, the messaging around individual responsibility remains key in addressing disease prevention and in working toward environmental sustainability.

The time is now and each of us shares a role in meeting these challenges head on, while ensuring that children’s health protection does not continue to get lost in the efforts to reduce the effects of global climate change.

Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH
Executive Director
Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN)

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