Health Impacts of Climate Change on Children in the United States: EPA Report

Kids playing soccer in a park.

The signs of climate change are all around us, and children are uniquely vulnerable to its impacts. Climate change-related impacts in childhood can have lifelong consequences due to effects on learning, physical health, and housing security. A new national-scale, multi-sector EPA report showcases some of the ways children are especially vulnerable to a variety of health effects from climate change due to physical, cognitive, behavioral, and social factors.

This peer-reviewed report quantifies projected health effects associated with extreme heat, air quality, changing seasons, flooding, and infectious diseases. Where possible, the analyses consider the extent to which health effects disproportionately fall on children who are Black, Indigenous and people of color [BIPOC], low income, without health insurance, and/or have limited English proficiency.

“Understanding health risks to children is critical for developing effective and equitable strategies that will protect our current and future generations,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Today’s report will help further efforts being taken by the Biden Administration across the Federal government to address the climate crisis and advance environmental justice.”

The report finds a number of impacts to U.S. children’s health and well-being. For example, at 2°C and 4°C of global warming:

  • Climate change is expected to increase the incidence of asthma in children. Specifically, climate-driven changes in air quality are estimated to increase annual cases of asthma between 4% and 11%, respectively.
  • Increases in oak, birch, and grass pollen are projected to increase children’s asthma-related emergency department visits from 17%-30% each year.
  • Additional cases of Lyme disease in children are projected to rise 79% to 241%, or an additional 2,600 to 23,400 new cases per year.
  • Heat experienced during the school year affects concentration and learning in children. Climate-driven temperature increases are projected to result in 4% to 7% reductions in annual academic achievement per child. These learning losses can affect future income, with potential losses across cohorts of graduating students reaching billions of dollars annually (and in the thousands of dollars per individual).
  • If no additional adaptation actions are taken, 1 million to 2 million+ children are estimated to experience temporary home displacement or complete home loss, respectively, from coastal flooding at 50cm to 100cm of global mean sea level.

The report is an important new resource in the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to address the climate crisis and advance environmental justice. Agencies across the federal government are working to protect all children from environmental health risks, with EPA particularly focused on impacts to the health of children due to climate change and other environmental factors.

“EPA’s new report offers a clear, compelling overview of how climate change impacts our children’s health. Its findings underscore the necessity of considering children’s well-being in every climate policy — and the moral urgency of taking effective action to stop climate pollution on behalf of younger and future generations,” said Moms Clean Air Force Senior Policy Analyst Elizabeth Bechard. “We know that children are especially vulnerable to nearly all of the health impacts of climate change, from extreme heat and worsened air quality to coastal flooding and increased prevalence of insect-borne diseases. The new report is painful to read. But necessary. It offers an important roadmap for policymakers, parents, teachers, health care providers, and childcare workers by highlighting both the challenges we face and potential solutions. For all who care about children’s well-being, EPA’s new report is a call to action — a call we must answer for our children’s sake.”

“Children are experiencing the impacts of climate change from negative health outcomes impacting their physical and mental health,” said Children’s Environmental Health Network Executive Director Nsedu Obot Witherspoon. “It is very important for the EPA and the Biden-Harris Administration to generate this report and take a stand for children and their well-being. Available evidence and lived experience support the fact that children’s health is further threatened by increased changing seasons, extreme heat, air quality, flooding, and infectious diseases, all of which are influenced by climate change. We also know that Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, Asian and Pacific Islander children, and those from lower wealth families experience cumulative impacts from environmental and climate injustice. We applaud the EPA for this important leadership and will continue to identify ways to collaborate to advance the health of all children from the growing and urgent threat of climate change.”

“As a physician, I understand that the environment is a key determinant of our health,” said Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-25). “This report makes clear the profound impact of climate change on our children’s health, well-being, and development and highlights the need to address the climate crisis through a public health lens. I appreciate the Biden Administration’s commitment to protecting our children’s health, and I look forward to working together on solutions that advance environmental justice for all.”

EPA will host a public webinar on May 22 to discuss the report. To access the report and associated materials or register for the webinar, go to the Climate Change and Children’s Health and Well-Being in the United States Report webpage.

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