Climate change poses a huge threat to human health

Jan 25, 2008

Climate change will have a huge impact on human health and bold environmental policy decisions are needed now to protect the world’s population, according to the author of an article published in the BMJ today.

The threat to human health is of a more fundamental kind than is the threat to the world’s economic system, says Professor McMichael, a Professor of public health from the Australian National University. “Climate change is beginning to damage our natural life-support system,” he says.

The risks to health are many, and include the impact of heat waves, floods and wildfires, changes in infectious disease patterns, the effect of worsening food yields and loss of livelihoods.

The World Health Organisation estimates that a quarter of the world’s disease burden is due to the contamination of air, water, soil and food – particularly from respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease.

Climate change, says Professor McMichael, will make these and other diseases worse. While it is unlikely to cause entirely new diseases it will alter the incidence, range and seasonality of many existing health disorders. So, for example, by 2080 between 20 and 70 million more people could be living in malarial regions due to climate change.

The adverse health impacts will be much greater in low-income countries and vulnerable sub-populations than in richer nations.

Professor McMichael says:

“Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury. Food supplies need continuing soil fertility, climatic stability, freshwater supplies and ecological support (such as pollination). Infectious diseases cannot be stabilised in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment.”

The relationship between the environment and health is complex. For example, as India modernises it expects the health of its population to improve, yet industrialisation also means a rapidly increased level of coal-burning and greater global emissions. This in turn leads to climate change, the impact of which is felt most by vulnerable populations.

Professor McMichael concludes that the global changes we are seeing now are unprecedented in their scale, and healthcare systems should develop strategies to deal with the resulting growing burden of disease and injury. More bold and far-sighted policy decisions need to be taken at national and international level to arrest the process and health professionals “have both the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to resolving this momentous issue.”

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: Can YouTube save your life?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New tool identifies therapeutic proteins in a 'snap'

Aug 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —In human and bacterial cells, glycosylation – the chemical process of attaching complex sugar molecules to proteins – is as fundamental as it gets, affecting every biological mechanism from cell signaling ...

Older coral species more hardy, biologists say

Aug 18, 2014

New research indicates older species of coral have more of what it takes to survive a warming and increasingly polluted climate, according to biologists from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University ...

Recommended for you

Can YouTube save your life?

7 hours ago

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

7 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

7 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

8 hours ago

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

Taking preventive health care into community spaces

9 hours ago

A church. A city park. An office. These are not the typical settings for a medical checkup. But a new nationwide study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research shows that providing health services in ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Argiod
1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2008
This looks a lot like a lifeboat with the captain and crew hoarding supplies and allowing people at the rear of the lifeboat die of starvation when there's enough to feed everyone onboard. We need a new ecconomic system that distributes basic survival resources like food, equally to all people, not just the priviledged few. On the other hand, we also seriously need to enact strict population controls to keep from further stressing the Earth's ability to support the ever growning human population. If we don't do these things, and do them soon, humans will become the next endangered species.