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Public Health Hazards May Rise with Climate Change Temperatures

First Posted: Sep 23, 2014 09:51 AM EDT

Want better health? Then taking action when it comes to climate change may be the answer. Scientists have found that the number of hot days in Eastern and Midwestern U.S. cities may triple by mid-century, which could drastically impact health.

"Climate change already is affecting global health," said Jonathan Patz, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "The good news is that clear health benefits are immediately available, from low-carbon strategies that today could result in cleaner air or to more active transport options that can improve physical fitness, ultimately saving lives and averting disease."

The new study examines the science behind some of the current and projected climate-related health risks. These include more extreme heat waves and storms, increased waterborne and infectious disease risks, more chronic health risks related to air pollution and increased malnutrition and obesity-related risks from carbon-intensive diets.

"Climate change is an enormous public health challenge because it affects our health through multiple pathways," said Patz. "But if the risks are so interdependent, so, too, are the opportunities. Evidence shows there is a significant health benefit in active transport, particularly in the area of chronic disease. And with current disease trends in industrializing nations, burning less fossil fuel can yield potentially large dividends for public health."

The findings show the importance of mitigating climate change and taking action in order to prevent public health from declining. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can be used for these goals, and scientists are optimistic about the future.

"These findings dovetail with recent World Health Organization (WHO) studies that identified major health benefits from low carbon housing, transport and agriculture," said Carlos Dora, WHO health policy expert. "Many of these benefits come from reductions in air pollution, but low carbon strategies can also increase physical activity, reduce traffic injuries and improve food security."

The findings will be presented at the Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health in New York.

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