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Climate Change

Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment

Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment

Climate change is affecting the health of Americans1. As the climate continues to change, the risks to human health will grow, exacerbating existing health threats and creating new public health challenges. This assessment significantly advances what we know about the impacts of climate change on public health, and the confidence with which we know it. While all Americans will be affected by climate change, the report recognizes populations of concern, such as children, the elderly, outdoor workers, and those living in disadvantaged communities, who are disproportionately vulnerable.

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Video: Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment

Table of Contents

Introduction

Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal

NIEHS' knowledge management tool for locating the most relevant scientific literature on the health implications of climate change.

Explore the Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal

Climate change is the result of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and other human activities. These gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, warm and alter the global climate, which causes environmental changes to occur that can harm people's health and well-being. The NIEHS Climate Change and Human Health Program leads and coordinates the Institute's efforts to better understand climate change, in order to protect people's health2.

Man sweating

How does climate change affect human health?

While climate change is a global process, it has very local impacts that can profoundly affect communities. It can affect people's health and well-being in many ways, some of which are already occurring3, by:

  • Increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves, leading to more heat-related illnesses and deaths.
  • Changing the range of disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that transmit West Nile Virus, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and malaria to humans.
  • Increasing exposure to pollen, due to increased plant growing seasons; molds, due to severe storms; and air pollution, due to increased temperature and humidity, all of which can worsen allergies and other lung diseases, such as asthma.
  • Increasing temperatures and causing poor air quality that can affect the heart and worsen cardiovascular disease.
  • Increasing flooding events and sea level rise that can contaminate water with harmful bacteria, viruses, and chemicals, causing foodborne and waterborne illnesses.
  • Increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, in addition to causing injuries, deaths, illnesses, and effects on mental health from damage to property, loss of loved ones, displacement, and chronic stress.
  • Placing added stress on hospital and public health systems, and limiting people's ability to obtain adequate health care during extreme climate events.

U.S. Surgeon General Addresses UN Conference on Climate Change (COP-21)

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Additional Resources

  • Centers, Interagency Collaborations, and Consortia: Climate Change and Human Health Research - 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.
  • Climate Change and Human Health - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers climate change to be one of the top public health challenges of our time. Our mission to protect the health and well-being of people in the United States depends on healthy and sustainable environments.
  • Climate Change: What You Can Do - This site provides more than 25 easy steps you can take at Home, School, the Office, and On the Road to protect the climate, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, and save money. Take action today! Small steps add up, if we all do our part.
  • Climate and Health Program Prevention and Preparedness - This site provides more than 25 easy steps you can take at Home, School, the Office, and On the Road to protect the climate, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, and save money. Take action today! Small steps add up, if we all do our part.
  • Cookstoves and Indoor Air - NIEHS has invested over estimated $8 million in research related to cookstoves and their health effects, primarily in community-based intervention studies in Guatemala, Ecuador, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana, and the U.S. with study endpoints including lower respiratory infection (LRI) and tuberculosis in children, low birth weight, COPD, and other respiratory conditions in adult women. NIEHS seeks to expand the geographic reach of its studies and research training programs, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of new cookstove technologies.
  • Global Environmental Health Program Global - Environmental Health may be defined as: Research, education, training, and research translation directed at health problems that are related to environmental exposures and transcend national boundaries, with a goal of improving health for all people by reducing the environmental exposures that lead to avoidable disease, disabilities and deaths.
  • Health and Climate Change - Managing the effects of climate change: The UCL Lancet Commission.
  • Programs and Initiatives: Climate Change and Human Health - The federal government has called for efforts to support adaptation and mitigation of climate change to create healthier, more sustainable communities. The goals of the NIEHS Climate Change and Human Health Program align with these efforts.
  • United States Global Change Research Program's Interagency Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health - The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

For Educators

  1. USGCRP (2016). The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC. [Available]
  2. Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2. [Available]
  3. Portier CJ, Thigpen Tart K, Carter SR, Dilworth CH, Grambsch AE, Gohlke J, Hess J, Howard SN, Luber G, Lutz JT, Maslak T, Prudent N, Radtke M, Rosenthal JP, Rowles T, Sandifer PA, Scheraga J, Schramm PJ, Strickman D, Trtanj JM, Whung P-Y. 2010. A Human Health Perspective On Climate Change: A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change. Research Triangle Park, NC:Environmental Health Perspectives/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002272. [Available]