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States Take Action to Address Climate Change's Impact on Public Health

Laura Joszt
Climate change causes a host of issues that have public health impacts, and states are proactively taking steps to anticipate these health issues and prevent them.
Climate anomalies resulting from climate change are a public health concern, and states are responding by taking steps to prevent these health threats. A new report from the American Public Health Association (APHA), with support from the CDC, highlights these steps, as well as a framework that can be used to develop ways to anticipate the health effects of climate change.

The report, “Adaptation in Action: Updated Grantee Success Stories From CDC’s Climate and Health Program, Part II,” is a follow-up to the first Adaptation in Action report that was released in 2015 and profiled the work of 5 states and 2 cities. The new report highlights the work of Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island.

The states in the new report focused on a wide array of climate threats to health, including exacerbated allergies and lung diseases (Illinois), extreme temperatures (Massachusetts), gaps around climate and health engagement (Maryland), emergency preparedness (New York), sea level rise (North Carolina), vector-borne disease (New Hampshire), resilience planning (Oregon), increased flooding (Wisconsin), and elderly resilience (Rhode Island).

"As an APHA priority, we believe in the need for strong climate change strategies and interventions that protect people's health," APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, said in a statement. "The public health community plays a critical role."

The report highlights that climate change is expected to increase health disparities, with some environmental risks disproportionately threatening populations like children, pregnant women, low-income communications, or those with mobility or cognitive limitations. It is important to recognize that some communities will not be as resilient as others and additional resources need to be allocated to help vulnerable populations.

Some aspects of climate change that have health impacts highlighted in the report include:
  • Poor air quality can cause heart and lung health problems
  • Increased flooding raises chances of food and drinking water contamination
  • Displacement and forced migration increase stress and mental health strain
  • Threats to biodiversity may influence nutrition, infectious disease, and traditional medicines.
“The need to stop or slow climate change is urgent, but so too is the need to adapt to the effects already impacting health and quality of life,” according to the report.

The report highlights the BRACE, or Building Resilience Against Climate Effects, framework, which can be used to develop ways to anticipate health effects of climate change and prepare programs to protect communities. The framework includes 5 steps for health departments to identify how climate will affect human health and enable them to customize their planning and response to local circumstances.

The 5 steps include:
  1. Anticipate climate impacts and assess vulnerabilities
  2. Project the disease burden
  3. Assess public health interventions
  4. Develop and implement a climate and health adaptation plan
  5. Evaluate impact and improve quality of activities
“The value of BRACE is that it provides opportunities for health departments to understand their communities’ vulnerability to health impacts associated with climate-related exposure,” according to the report.

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