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Your Environment. Your Health.

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.

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

Introduction

sunrise over environmental landscapes

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.

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.

What is NIEHS Doing?

NIEHS Research Efforts

  • The NIEHS Climate Change and Human Health program funds research aimed at understanding the health effects of climate change. This research will identify populations who are vulnerable to climate change, produce methods and models for studying climate change, and advance how to best communicate and provide education about risks tied to climate change.
  • Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal - This free knowledge management tool is a curated database of global peer-reviewed research papers and other literature.
  • Programs and Initiatives: Climate Change and Human Health - The federal government calls 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.

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS newsletter)

Additional Resources

  • Climate and Health Program – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presents the collaborative work of states, cities, territories, and tribes related to climate change and health. This webpage includes resources for public health professionals.
  • 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. Read about its mission to protect the health and well-being of people in the United States.
  • Climate Change Research The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides scientific information and tools that can be used by communities to tackle the climate crisis effectively, equitably, and sustainably.
  • Extreme Weather Collection – This collection presents high-impact research papers, reviews, news articles, podcasts, and other materials published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal supported by NIEHS. The focus is on health risks and effects of extreme weather. Environmental health research such as this informs policies related to climate change and communities’ preparations for those changes.
  • United States Global Change Research Program - This program, comprised of 13 member agencies, is mandated by Congress to coordinate federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their impacts on society. The program prepares and submits to the President and the Congress a quadrennial National Climate Assessment.
  • Weather Extremes – NIEHS has resources related to extreme storms, heat, and cold, which can harm human health.

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 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.]
  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 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.]
  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 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.]
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