A recent collaboration between Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NYC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health uncovered eye-opening statistics about the direct connection between climate change and the future health of children.

According to the research team, more children will end up hospitalized over the next decade because of respiratory problems as a result of projected climate change.

"These significant changes in children’s hospitalizations from respiratory illnesses would be a direct result of projected climate-change effects on ground-level ozone concentrations," said lead author Perry Elizabeth Sheffield, MD, pediatric environmental health fellow in the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine. "This research is important because it shows that we as a country need to implement policies that both improve air quality and also prevent climate change, because this could improve health in the present and prevent worsening respiratory illness in the future."

Sheffield and her colleagues created a model describing future projected rates of respiratory hospitalizations for children less than 2 years of age using baseline NYC metropolitan area hospitalization rates from publicly available corresponding state Department of Health databases. According to Sheffield, the hospitalization rates were then compared to a previously developed dose-response relationship between ozone levels and pediatric respiratory hospitalizations, and the expected NYC 8-hour daily maximum ozone levels for the 2020s, as projected by a regional climate model created by the NY Climate and Health Project. Two separate future scenarios were used, differing by the amount of projected ozone precursor emissions (chemicals that are converted to ozone by light and heat).

The study found that by 2020, respiratory hospitalizations are projected to rise between 4% and 7% for children less than 2 years of age because of projected air pollution increases. The research team clarified that these are likely conservative estimates because population was held constant, a single dose response function was used for the entire area, and most counties were not weighted by race and ethnicity.

"Our study supports the necessity of improving air pollution around the world. We need to begin to make these improvements through industry emission controls, traffic reduction policies, and increased enforcement of traffic regulations," said co-author Philip Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of Community and Preventive Medicine.