Climate change worsening asthma for children of color

October 7, 2022 – Days of extreme heat driven by climate change are disproportionately harming Black and Hispanic children with asthma, according to experts.

In a September 26 USA Today article, pediatricians explained that higher temperatures lead to higher levels of ozone, a gas that forms from the burning of fossil fuels. Ozone is typically worse in urban areas with more traffic—the same areas where more Black and Hispanic kids tend to live. There’s also less green space in inner-city neighborhoods. It all adds up to increased risk for people with asthma—especially kids.

This dangerous situation is the result of structural inequities in housing, wealth, and access to health care, according to Aaron Bernstein, a pediatric hospitalist at Boston Children’s Hospital and interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE). He noted that previous federal policies such as redlining, which denied home loans to Black Americans in certain areas, forced Black families into poorer neighborhoods.

“Any parents in this country would absolutely want this for their child: To not have to spend a day in the hospital, to not have to struggle breathing, to not have all of these consequences of asthma,” he said. “And right now, parents of children of color are dealing with that, by no choices of their own.”

The article also quoted Renee Salas, an emergency medicine physician and Yerby Fellow at C-CHANGE. Salas recalled treating a four-year-old girl with asthma who wound up in the ER repeatedly due to asthma attacks. The girl lived in a previously redlined area near a highway. “My patient was in a situation where I was putting a Band-Aid  on a bullet wound to try to stabilize her disease, but sending her back out in an environment where she had air pollution, ground-level ozone and pollen, that all had a root cause in the burning of fossil fuels,” she said.

Read the USA Today article: Black and Hispanic children suffer disproportionately from asthma. Climate change is making it worse.

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