In an unusual step, a major medical journal takes a look at climate change

For years, earth science research journals have warned of the disastrous consequences that could result from runaway global warming and pollution.

Today, one of the nation’s oldest medical journals is committed to increasing public knowledge about the health effects of global climate change.

Beginning with the issue published Thursday, the New England Journal of Medicine is expanding its coverage of the intersection of climate issues and public health, beginning with a series on the health harms of fossil fuels. The Journal plans to devote regular coverage to the subject – on its pages and in its affiliated journals – in the future.

The opening article focuses on how children, especially children of color and those from poor and working-class communities, are affected by factors such as extreme weather events, heat stress, and the quality of the environment. air and water.

“People care about children, and families and children are going to suffer the most from long-term climate change issues,” said one of the authors, Kari Nadeau, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Naddisy Foundation and director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University.

“For example, my children will see three times more extreme weather events than their grandparents,” Nadeau said. “In their lifetime, there will be 5 million deaths worldwide due to climate change – we really need to focus our efforts on communicating how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. And we have these tools.

“The time has come, it’s urgent and we can do something about it.”

The article is just the start of much-needed attention to the consequences of climate problems by leading researchers in the medical community, said an associate editor of the journal.

After the editors of 200 health journals – including the New England Journal of Medicine – signed off on an editorial in September 2021 urging world leaders to act on climate change, Caren Solomon, the journal’s associate editor, said said she and others felt compelled to redouble their efforts. efforts to deal with the health consequences.

“We’re getting together and trying to approach this from different angles,” said Solomon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician. She hopes the series will help doctors and their patients, and she hopes it will help people learn more about this issue and become more motivated to engage in climate action.

In the article, Nadeau and her co-author, Frederica Perera, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, write that the effects of climate change are “a growing concern “for the health of children, both physically and emotionally.

“All children are at risk,” Nadeau and Perera wrote, “but the greatest burden falls on those who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Protecting children’s health requires that health professionals understand the multiple harms caused to children by climate change and air pollution and use the strategies available to reduce these harms.

These strategies, according to the authors, include mental health counseling related to climate change or displacement, developing a heat action plan, education about air quality index and pollen monitoring as well as the use of home air filtration systems. Healthcare professionals “have the power to protect the children in their care by screening to identify those at high risk of associated health consequences”, they said, “by educating them and their families and others more broadly about these risks and effective interventions; and advocating for strong mitigation and adaptation strategies.

One strategy has been to partner with families to document the health impacts of climate that they see firsthand.

Kim Gaddy, an activist, said she suspected one in four children in Newark, New Jersey had asthma. And as a black mother in a heavily polluted city, she says she knows the burden of the disease all too well: she suffers from asthma, as do three of her children. Her eldest died last summer at the age of 32 following a heart attack. Founder of the South Ward Environmental Alliance, Gaddy is the National Environmental Justice Director for Clean Water Action. She said she began teaming up with a coalition of health professionals to study the prevalence of asthma in her city. The data they gathered proved that his hypothesis was correct – Newark children have one of the highest rates of asthma in the country.

“They analyzed what was going on with the asthma and they said, ‘Kim, you’re spot on – one in four,'” Gaddy said. “We need that validation from health officials who often don’t sit at the table with us. And it’s a good thing to be able to partner with a pediatrician and nurses who can now access these systems and share the information. »

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That’s the kind of partnerships the New England Journal of Medicine hopes its series will spark.

Aaron Bernstein, pediatrician and acting director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said the decision to publish this and other articles on health and climate change is a “decisive moment”.

“Medical journals have generally not been concerned with pollution. Medical journals mostly focus on treatments, new drugs, new procedures, new tests,” Bernstein said. “The New England Journal is really putting a stake in the ground here.”

For a journal at the forefront of research into medical tests, treatments and innovations, the article is an acknowledgment that global warming may put many of these advances at risk.

“I think this article in the series is a sign that when it comes to climate change, everything we’ve worked so hard to do in healthcare is at risk,” he said. “We won’t be able to implement all of these great breakthroughs that they’re publishing about – the new drugs and the new tests – if we don’t act on the climate.”

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