Global Warming And Climate Change

While high blood pressure in a population can impose a health risk and poor nutrition increases susceptibility to disease, global warming and climate change, alter the temperature, water cycle, and pathogen distribu-tio, posing direct threats to human health. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, certain regions and populations are more vulnerable than others to increases in disease. As climate changes, regions with high endemicity of malaria, or regions affected by El Nino-linked epidemics may expand. Climate changes will put stress on food and water systems, leading to environmental diseases. Similarly, areas under socioeconomic stress, poor land-use and resource practices, or underdeveloped health infrastructure will have problems combating increases in disease. Chemical hazards related to resource development, such as coal use in the environment, produce a diversity of diseases, ranging from asthma to birth defects and cancer.

Climate change will not only affect exposure to disease vectors and pollutants, but also lower human resistance to disease. Drought is associated with poor hygiene and increases in diarrhea, scabies, and conjunctivitis. Fire smoke carries metals, such as mercury, and fine particles that exacerbate cardiac and respiratory problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Volatile organic compounds and particulate matter formation can increase at higher temperatures. Once pollutants are formed, climate and environmental change, such as temperature inversions, can increase exposure to toxicants.

Flooding increases waterborne diseases by contaminating drinking water. In marine ecosystems, bacteria such as the vibrio species proliferate in warmer waters. Temperature also increases the incidence of vector-borne diseases. Both malaria and arboviruses are mosquito-borne diseases. Rodent-borne hantavirus infections increase in relation to El Nino's heavy rainfall. Changes in climate will affect food productivity and lead to malnutrition, which may increase disease rates. Inadequate diets also occur in developed nations, as fast food and contaminated food represents an increasing percentage of the diet. Also, fast-food processing and transportation can remove nutritional value from the foods, often increasing the sugar and fat content.

A disease of dietary insufficiency in children known as kwashiorkor needs to be monitored as climate changes. Dietary factors are major components of heart disease and cancer. Increased saturated or trans fat intake may be correlated with increased risks of colon and prostate cancer. Obesity has been linked to endometrial cancer. Cancer is still rare in children, but some types are increasing, such as gli-oma, a form of brain cancer that has increased by 40 percent in children over the last 40 years. Also, children tend to be more susceptible to environmental toxins because of high relative exposure (with more food intake, lower body weight, and higher internal dose); they have higher rates of cell proliferation and an immature detoxification and cell repair system.

Children of subsistence families are at increased risk from climate change and the global concept of food production as a commodity.

SEE ALSO: Anthropogenic Forcing; Coal; Developing Countries; Drought; Ecosystems; Emissions, Baseline; Floods; Food Production; Pollution, Land; Seasonal Cycle; Wind-Driven Circulation; World Health Organization (WHO).

BIBLIOGRAPHY. J.H. Duffus and H.G.J. Worth, eds., Fundamental Toxicology for Chemists (Royal Society of Chemistry, 1996); Howard Frumkin, ed., Environmental Health (John Wiley and Sons, 2005); G.D. Marten, Human Ecology (Earthscan Publications, 2001); G.S. Moore, Living with the Earth (CRC Press, 2007); Olle Selinus, et al., eds., Essentials of Medical Geology (Elsevier Academic Press, 2005).

Lawrence K. Duffy University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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