Climate change could cause millions of children to be born prematurely, suffer lifelong complications

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Climate change could cause millions of children to be born prematurely, suffer lifelong complications
Scientists have been filling our ears with news of worsening climate disasters for years. While some of us have taken heed and are actively supporting the climate revolution, there is a certain section of the climate-struck population these warnings haven’t even managed to touch yet. And even if these cautions fortuitously reach these people, there’s still no guarantee they will have finished growing ears, brains and language-processing faculties to understand them. We’re talking about babies, of course.
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Analysing data from 163 global health studies, a new study assessed the effect future weather events could have on the health of future young generations. Perhaps the most startling revelation was the fact that extreme temperatures could increase the risk of preterm birth by a massive 60%. This translates to potential lifelong complications for millions of children worldwide.

Extreme temperatures also had other effects, distinguished by which end of the spectrum took its toll on the children. For instance, too much cold made babies more susceptible to respiratory diseases, while drought and severe rainfall stunted their growth. The effect of air pollution was smaller compared to temperature, but most pollutants did end up having some or the other effect on the children.

Lower-income countries are typically more susceptible to such weather-related problems due to their ongoing challenge with accessing healthcare, infrastructure, and stable food supplies. However, considering that most of this research was based in higher-income nations, their children were not left unscathed either.

These effects were highly geography-dependent, with the researchers explaining that while extreme temperatures led to increased premature births in parts of Australia, similar conditions would have led to higher mortality rates in South Africa.

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Further, the authors warn that the financial costs of such problems could be a major issue in the coming years. They explain that a single wildfire could incur costs as high as Rs 12,000 crores due to asthma in the future. Lifelong treatment of one case of childhood asthma is expected to cost up to Rs 19 lakhs in the coming years.

The study's authors urge policymakers to implement climate adaptation and mitigation policies to safeguard children's health. They emphasise the positive impact such actions could have on achieving multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring good health and well-being for all.

The findings of this research have been published in Science of the Total Environment and can be accessed here.
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