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Sep 23

How Climate Change is Directly Impacting Public Health

You don’t need an expert to tell you that changes in the weather can pose a serious threat to your health, but what about changes that turn out to be permanent? As the population ages, public health officials are growing more and more concerned with the effects of global warming on humanity’s health and welfare and whether people can successfully adapt to the weather changes coming their way. A study by the U.S. Global Change and Research Program found that climate change would primarily affect the very old, very young, poor, and uninsured in America. Already, the country is seeing the effects of reduced air quality and a vast increase in natural disasters. How much worse is it going to get?

How hot is it? - climate change is directly impacting public health

1. Heat Waves

The most deadly form of weather is extreme heat. According to the CDC, close to 700 people die of health problems resulting from heat every year, and the threat is especially dangerous for elderly Americans. By 2020, more than 20 percent of Americans will be over age 65, leading to a huge increase in the number of potential victims. Poor elderly Americans living in urban areas are the most at risk because they often don’t have access to adequate air conditioning and cities are always hotter than rural regions. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts heatwave deaths in Los Angeles alone will increase up to seven times the current level by the end of the 21st century. They also increase air pollution because the electricity used to cool buildings creates greenhouse emissions and fewer of these emissions are absorbed into the ozone.

2. Natural Disasters

If you’re thinking there’s been an increase in the number of severe storms in America in recent years, that’s because climate change has had an indelible impact on their severity. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, global warming creates more water vapor in the atmosphere, making the poles more humid and decreasing the temperature difference between them and the Equator. This creates a cycle of intense drought and floods, because precipitation is falling in several large storms instead of frequent smaller ones. It also increases wind speed, giving fuel to deadly hurricanes. Overpopulation means cities are growing at a rate that sometimes compromises safety measures, so impact from these storms is worse. The effects of these events on public health are numerous, from the spread of disease to the inability to find food and shelter.

3. Pollution-related Illness

Cairo Air Pollution with smog - Pyramids1 - climate change is directly impacting public health

The number of days per year where the air is deemed unhealthy is steadily increasing, and ozone pollution is at the root of many respiratory diseases, especially in children and the elderly. When carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides are exposed to each other in sunlight, the result is dangerous smog that can cause asthma and respiratory infections. The EPA also warns of changes in particulate matter. These tiny particles are formed from chemical reactions in the atmosphere, and when inhaled they can cause premature death by aggravating heart and lung conditions. Climate changed has also been blamed for a longer and more intense allergy season and for an increase in bacteria in food and water due to contamination after heat waves or floods.

While the full impact of climate change on humanity’s well-being is still being studied, public health officials believe that adaptation and education needs to begin in earnest. As America becomes more accepting of green construction and green technology, there is still a gap in understanding when it comes to the extreme health challenges that are on the horizon. Change is coming, and it’s important for everyone to adapt to it.

Brett Harris blogs articles to educate the public about environmental issues and the impact it has on your health. A career in public health is a way to bring awareness to these issues and be able to help with preventions. Before choosing a college that offers degrees in health check the 2014 MPH program rankings.

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