Who Is at Risk from Climate Change? | American Lung Association

Who Is at Risk from Climate Change?

Millions of people face greater risk to their health because of climate change, including from increased risk of air pollution and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and wildfires, among other challenges.

If you have lung disease, you face health risks from both ozone and particle pollution, as well as from the impacts of extreme weather and airborne allergens. Just a few of these threats include shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and increased need for medical attention. It may be harder to maintain your disease management if you have to evacuate or repair your home after floods or storms.1

Children face greater risks from pollution worsened by climate change than adults. Their lungs and their bodies' defenses are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound than adults. Because they often spend more time outdoors, kids also breathe more polluted air than adults do for their size. In addition, children may be harmed by warmer temperatures and are at greater risk from the impact of emergency weather events and natural disasters, among other threats. 2

For older adults, particularly those coping with lung diseases, climate change poses many risks that can be dangerous, even deadly. Higher air pollution associated with climate change is particularly risky for older adults. Studies have found that increased heat and exposure to air pollution increases the risk of premature death, as well as increased risk of emergency room visits and hospital admissions, especially among those older adults who spend more time outdoors. Bodily changes associated with aging—including those that affect breathing and movement—can make it even more difficult to respond to climate change. 3

People who have low incomes and some communities of color face higher risk, too. Low income and social position may make some groups more susceptible to health threats because of where they live or work, including near places that have higher levels of pollution, or because they have a harder time getting medical care. Many are more likely to have chronic diseases like asthma. They also face greater challenges responding to extreme weather events.4

Sources:
  1. Luber G, Knowlton J, Balbus J, Frumkin H, Hayden M, Hess J, et al. 2014: Chapter 9: Human Health Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J.M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G.W Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, 228-229. http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/JOPN93H5 . http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/human-health
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2007, reaffirmed 2012. Global Climate Change and Children's Health. Pediatrics 120: 1149. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2007-2645
  3. Gamble JL et al. 2013. Climate Change and Older Americans: State of the Science. Environmental Health Perspectives. 121:15–22; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1205223.
  4. Luber G, Knowlton J, Balbus J, Frumkin H, Hayden M, Hess J, et al. 2014: Chapter 9: Human Health Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J.M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G.W Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, 228-229. http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/JOPN93H5 . http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/human-health

    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed October 31, 2017.

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