An international team of researchers conducted a review of published review articles to gain a better understanding of links between climate change and child health inequalities. Three specific dimensions were considered: (a) within country differences by social groups, (b) between poorer and richer countries, and (c) living in specific geographical locations.
Twenty-three reviews published between 2007 and January 2021 were analyzed. Most reviews included all ages from birth to 18; some focused more specifically on children under 5 years of age. The prenatal and/or perinatal periods of child development were also included by some of the reviews. While all of the included reviews addressed inequalities in child health within and/or between countries or geographical regions, only a few focused on inequalities as their primary concern.
Descriptive evidence provided by the reviews indicate that climate change disproportionately impacts poor countries and poor people within these countries. The evidence also indicates that adverse health effects caused by climate change are likely to be experienced by low-income populations living near the equator. The increased susceptibility of poorer countries being more vulnerable than richer countries to the adverse health effects caused by climate change was attributed to limited structural and economic resources in the poorer countries. Climate change acting as “an amplifier of existing inequities” was supported by several reviews noting how socioeconomic, demographic, health-related, geographic, and other risk factors make subgroups within populations more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of climate change. The adverse health effects on children include malnutrition, respiratory diseases, diarrhea, low birth weight, and mortality. Only three of the 23 reviews explicitly considered child mental health and cognitive development. Areas of mental health addressed in these reviews include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and learning disruptions due to displacements. Two reviews -- both focusing on indigenous children in Canada -- considered dimensions of spiritual health. Clearly noted throughout the reviews is information about children being more vulnerable to the health effects of climate change than adults, due to their incomplete physiological and cognitive development, their dependence on parents and/or caregivers, and their higher exposure to air, food, and water per unit of body weight.
The overall results of this review of reviews indicate that “the current state of knowledge of the impact of climate change on child health inequalities is weak.” While the descriptive evidence is strong, there was only limited quantitative data to support links between climate change and child health inequalities. More research is called for to, not only gain a better understanding of climate change-related inequities, but to also provide direction for initiatives designed to mitigate climate change's impact on child health inequalities.