How Climate Change Affects Your Health

How does climate change affect health? Find out in this article!
How Climate Change Affects Your Health
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 18 January, 2023

When we think of climate change we usually think of the planet’s health, not our own. This at least is the case among non-specialists, because scientists have warned for decades how this will have enormous effects on people’s health and lives in general. This is the reason why today we’re going to summarize how climate change affects general health.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) points out, climate change affects the aspects of life that determine health. Here we’re talking about access to safe housing, drinking water, sufficient food and clean air (among others). According to the estimates from WHO, from 2030, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year.

How climate change affects human health

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rightly points out, climate change intensifies some current health threats and promotes the emergence of many others.

There are hundreds of ways in which it will affect the health levels of the world’s population, so it’s impossible to mention them all here. We’ll focus in on the areas where the impact is felt the most.

Air pollution

When you think about climate change it’s often in relation to air pollution. There are many ways in which air pollution has a direct impact on health.

According to researchers, diseases such as lung cancer, COPD, respiratory infections and asthma can develop or worsen due to the quality of the air you breathe.

Children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases are the most affected, but in general, the entire population is exposed to these complications due to air pollution.

According to some estimates, air pollution alone causes 3.3 million deaths worldwide. Since this hasn’t stopped increasing, it’s expected that the number of deaths and associated complications will increase even more.

Vector-borne diseases

Climate change and health due to the proliferation of vectors.
The climate directly influences the life of the vectors that transmit infectious diseases. This directly affects human beings.

Meteorological factors such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and wind are associated with various vector-borne infectious diseases.

So is extreme weather (floods and hurricanes, for example), and so a change in these values increases or decreases the probability of vector-borne diseases appearing.

Mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks can expand their population density based on the above factors. Since climate change is causing cold areas to be warmer and even some hotter areas to be colder, the population of these insects may begin to increase.

Therefore, diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and others could become common in areas that aren’t usually affected by them. Of course, this is only possible in  areas where the insect/vector exists naturally.

Extreme temperatures

As everyone is aware, one of the main consequences of climate change is colder winters and hotter summers. According to the WHO, the number of people exposed to heat waves increased by some 125 million between 2000 and 2006.

Indeed, every year thousands and thousands of people around the world die due to summer heat waves. These can worsen underlying cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cerebrovascular disease.

The extreme cold of winter also causes thousands of deaths each year, so it’s another way in which climate change affects health.

Food and waterborne infectious diseases

Variations in air and water temperatures, precipitation patterns, extreme rain, and seasonal imbalances directly affect disease transmission. In particular, there’s evidence that climate change increases the incidence of diarrheal diseases. For example, salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis.

The WHO estimates that 1.7 billion cases of childhood diarrhea are reported each year, and this number could increase in the following decades. Its manifestation could show a chronic tendency, in addition to developing in non-endogenous areas of said diseases. Diarrhea is an underestimated condition that represents a serious health problem.

Food safety

Experts point out that climate change has a direct impact on food security. Drastic changes in the climate interfere with food production and supply.

Efforts to address losses and bottlenecks can drive food prices up so that millions of people around the world will find it difficult to access them.

Changes in eating patterns can force people to opt for unhealthy (but cheaper) foods or directly expose themselves to episodes of hunger.

As a consequence, millions will be exposed every year to malnutrition, obesity, development problems (in the case of children) and they will have a greater chance of getting chronic diseases.

Mental health

Climate change and mental health.
The excessive sensationalism regarding the topic of climate change has led many people to suffer from anxiety disorders.

For the last couple of decades, the term eco-anxiety has been popularized to refer to anguish, fear and worries in relation to climate change and the future.

Researchers also report an increase in depression, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and even suicidal thoughts. All of these can appear in anticipation of events and as a consequence of them happening.

Migration episodes due to disasters and changes in the climate, economic losses, radical changes in lifestyle, and negative omens regarding the future will further increase these episodes.

Experts point out that in these contexts the imbalance in psychological well-being will have direct consequences on the physical health of the population.

Final thoughts on climate change and health

Apart from everything that we’ve said, we should remember that most governments are currently engaged in the fight against climate change. Tremendous progress has been made in the area, only sometimes overshadowed by doomsday forecasts.

Certainly, the end of the planet as a direct consequence of climate change has been prophesied for more than fifty years; and almost all predictions in this regard have been wrong.

The above words don’t detract from what was stated above, nor do they deny the existence of climate change. The intention is to call for peace of mind, especially considering the way in which climate change affects mental health.

Actively participating in the plans and programs aimed at minimizing the impact of human activity on the climate is the best thing you can do to help avoid the consequences we’ve outlined.

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