Threats of Climate Change

We are all exposed to the consequences of climate change but some populations are more vulnerable than others. In these presentations three UCSF doctors explore the impact on maternal and child health, and the health of older people.

Dr. Tracey Woodruff explores climate, pollution, and prenatal and child health. Climate change worsens air pollution and extreme weather which can have severe impacts on health during and after pregnancy. Prenatal exposure to air pollutants can increase the risk of preterm birth, low birthweight and stillbirth. Air pollution is also associated with heart birth defects, autism, and neurodevelopmental delays along with pre-eclampsia and hypertension during pregnancy, a leading cause of maternal death. She argues that public policy is necessary to create lasting and fair solutions for all.

Dr. Pooja Singal focuses on children’s unique vulnerability to climate change. She notes that worldwide 1 in 5 deaths each year occurs in a child under 5. Children have greater exposure – they breathe more air, drink more water and eat more food per unit of body weight compared to adults. They also spend more time outside, contact the ground frequently and put their hands in their mouths more. Because childhood is a unique window of development, effects of malnutrition, toxins and pollutants are heightened. Children are also less able to understand what to do and are reliant on caregivers and the context in which they live.

Dr. Anna Chodors looks at the special risks to older adults. From wildfires to extreme heat and flooding, the elderly are disproportionally affected. In part this is due to physiological changes associated with aging and the associated biological vulnerabilities. Social vulnerabilities such as poverty, isolation and the digital divide contribute to their exposure.

Dr. Chodros encourages you to be aware of local weather conditions, understand that medications and health conditions can increase vulnerability, and make a plan to handle emergency situations.

Dr. Dan Lowenstein then encourages us to take climate change seriously because it is the existential crisis of our time.

Watch Climate Change: The Special Risks to Children, Pregnant Women and Older Adults .

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