It’s no secret that the environment is changing…fast. We’ve seen the hottest years on record. The ocean temperature has reached over 100 degrees. We’re dealing with more and more tornadoes, super-storms, collapsing glaciers, and biblical-level flooding. The way it looks, things are only going to get hotter and more chaotic…and maybe faster than we think.

American families are already paying billions to clean up the damage and rebuild our infrastructure. But the environment isn’t the only victim of climate change. Children’s health is suffering, too.

That’s why parents need to take climate change seriously. Most parents protect their children’s health and future by buying insurance. And it’s just as smart and necessary to invest in efforts that protect against the devastating effects of global warming.

I’ve been advocating for our kids’ right to a healthy and safe environment for as long as I can remember. For decades, I have worked to sound the alarm about our need to protect children from lead, pesticides in food, and phthalates, which are harmful chemicals in children’s products. How we act to solve environmental challenges—like climate change—may well be this generation’s greatest defining moment. In 10 years, our kids will ask, “Didn’t everybody know? What did you do to protect the world for my generation—and the ones to come?”

This ever-growing environmental threat to children’s health is why the American Academy of Pediatrics released a sweeping statement on climate change. Pediatricians across the globe are witnessing profound shifts that are directly impacting kids—our most vulnerable citizens.

Climate Change and Heat-Related Illness

We’ve all felt the more frequent and intense heat waves. For adults, a heat wave may seem like a massive annoyance, but for babies and children extreme heat is a critical danger. Adults, with our long arms and legs, have a lot more skin surface to sweat and evaporate off some body heat. Little kids are more compact, their big heads and shorter limbs makes their body temperature rises much faster than ours—and makes it much harder for them to cool down.

Children 4 years and younger are among those at the greatest risk for heat-related illness, such as dehydration and heat stroke. Heat exposure even makes children very irritable and undermines their ability to learn and concentrate. 

Climate Change and Breathing

Did you know that climate change increases air pollution and allergens, both of which can have a profound impact on children’s overall respiratory health? Exposure to fine dust, ozone, and other pollutants can easily irritate a child’s still-developing respiratory system, triggering and exasperating asthma and allergies. To boot, warming temperatures and shifts in precipitation boost mold growth, which can aggravate allergies and asthma and lengthen plant growing seasons, causing longer, higher pollen counts for a super-sized allergy season.

Climate Change and Serious Infections

If you have a little one, you may have already had a run-in with the miserable hand, foot and mouth disease, a common viral infection causing fever, runny nose, sore throat…and painful blisters on the hands, feet, and/or mouth. Unfortunately, viruses like his one are extra-sensitive to temperature, which means warming temps can increase how long outbreaks last!

Even more concerning is all the mosquito- and tick-borne infections that are invading our grasslands and surging up from the tropics. These very serious heat-related dangers include Lyme disease, chikungunya, malaria, and Zika virus. They’re all spread by disease-carrying insects that thrive in warming winters and all summer heat and humidity.

Children in the developing world face an elevated risk for cholera and typhoid fever as well, because of heavy rain that floods and overwhelms the sanitation systems and pollutes the drinking water. Closer to home, every state in America is experiencing warmer water temperature, pollution, and agricultural runoff that has spurred toxic algae blooms that makes people sick when they swim in or drink the water.

Climate Change and Famine

Climate change can flood fields, scorch crops, weaken and kill the bees that pollinate plants, and so much more. All of that can lead directly to food shortages and malnutrition, which stunts the growth and development of our most vulnerable children.

What You Can Do About Global Warming

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. As large as climate change feels, there are some easy steps all of us can take to chip away at this problem:

  • Eat plant-based proteins. This is good for for the planet and your body. Cattle, pigs, and chickens release huge amounts of global warming CO2 and methane!

  • Save energy at home. Just a small reduction of heat in winter and air conditioning in summer can saves a lot of energy—and money! (Weatherproofing your house is important on both counts, too!)

  • Plant! Cultivate green spaces and plant trees and gardens to reduce “urban heat island effect” and help clean the air.

  • Recycle what you can. Cans, cardboard, lots of plastic, glass, newspapers, and just about anything else made of paper can all get new life through recycling!

  • Shop sustainably. Bring your own bag, choose locally grown and organic food when possible, and buy sustainable, reusable, and eco-friendly products.

  • Choose low-impact transport. Walk, bike, take public transit, and opt for a zero-emission vehicle reduces fuel consumption (and some of these also promote healthy movement…win-win!).

  • Opt for renewable energy. Solar and wind power improves air quality, helping kids breathe cleaner air.

  • Get involved! There are lots of people working for YOU! Support organizations like, EWG, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For more easy, practical ways to have an impact, I recommended reading Imagine It!, which is a great guide!

More Green Reading:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.