Climate Change and Human Health Research
Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
It is anticipated that climate change will bring extreme weather events, rises in sea level, flooding, drought, and poor air quality. These environmental changes can directly and indirectly impact our health.
Extreme heat can increase risk for heat-related illnesses and degrade air quality, which causes problems for people with respiratory diseases such as asthma. Extreme cold and heat are associated with increased hospitalizations related to cardiovascular disease, and floods can increase exposure to various contaminants. The ways we adapt to climate change also has potential health effects. For example, increased use of air conditioning would require more electricity from power plants, which might increase air pollution.
The NIEHS Climate Change and Human Health program funds research aimed at understanding the health impacts of climate change and how strategies used to adapt to or lessen climate change might affect health adversely. This research will help identify populations who are vulnerable to climate change, produce methods and models for studying climate change, and advance knowledge about how to best provide communication and education about risks tied to climate change. The program also plays a key role in facilitating the collaboration and coordination of both the research program and other activities related to climate change taking place within NIEHS and across NIH and other federal agencies.
Grantees currently funded by NIEHS are examining risk factors associated with increased vulnerability to health impacts of global climate change, covering a variety of topics, including how heat and air pollution interact to influence population vulnerability among elderly adults, children and pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations (such as Native Americans); the health impacts of climate change-related increases in forest fires and pollen exposure; and the health impacts of adaptive response to climate change (such as home weatherization and increased use of air conditioning) as well as co-benefits of mitigation of greenhouse gasses for addressing climate change. Other NIEHS-funded grantees are developing new methodological approaches to predict health vulnerabilities to climate change.