Consider Climate Change in Pediatric Clinical Visits

Heidi Splete

April 27, 2022

Climate-informed clinical encounters have the potential to enhance pediatric care in a variety of ways, according to Aaron Bernstein, MD, of Boston Children's Hospital.

"Each primary care visit offers opportunities to screen for and support children burdened with risks to health that are increasingly intense due to climate change," Rebecca P. Philipsborn, MD, of Emory University, Atlanta, and colleagues wrote in "A pediatrician's guide to climate change–informed primary care," on which Bernstein served as corresponding author (Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2021 June. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2021.101027).

In a presentation at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, Bernstein highlighted five components of climate-informed pediatric care mentioned in the article: climate-informed screening, health promotion that includes health and climate benefits, care management that anticipates climate risks for at-risk children, climate-informed anticipatory guidance, and engagement with community resources and advocacy.

Pediatricians can incorporate climate-related issues into screening protocols by asking patients about their home environment, Bernstein said. Potential questions to ask include whether the family has air conditioning in the home, and whether they are concerned about being able to pay the bill if they use air conditioning, he said.

Health promotion discussions during clinical encounters can emphasize that eating more fruits and vegetables not only is good for the health of the child and the whole family, but "also is good for the planet we live on," he said.

Care management strategies should anticipate climate risks for at-risk children, such those with complex or chronic medical conditions, and outdoor athletes for whom air quality might be an issue, he said.

Medication management has a climate-informed aspect, Bernstein said. "How safe are the medications you prescribe?" he asked. During the summer months, the relative risk of hospitalization with heat exposure is increased for a range of drugs including ACE inhibitors (RR 1.42), loop diuretics (RR 1.52), stimulants (RR 1.53), anticholinergics (RR 1.26), antipsychotics (RR 1.51), and beta-blockers (RR 1.08), he noted.

For children who play outdoor sports, previous studies suggest they acclimatize for approximately 7 days if traveling prior to vigorous exercise outdoors. "Monitor the heat index and limit the intensity or length of exercise on extreme heat index days," Bernstein said. He emphasized the need to remind children and parents to try to limit intense physical activity to the coolest parts of the day, before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m., to wear sunscreen and light-colored, lightweight clothing, and to drink 5-8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during exercise.

Approximately 12% of all-cause attributable fractions of emergency department visits are associated with heat exposure, Bernstein added. He recommended that pediatricians and patients be aware of and as resources to monitor air quality. Pay attention to the heat index, which factors in humidity and presents the real-feel temperature, not just the thermometer reading.

Last but not least, Bernstein explained that pediatricians can use a clinical visit to ask adolescent patients about civic engagement, and offer resources for those who want to learn more about climate change, such as

For more detailed guidance, Bernstein recommended "A pediatrician's guide to climate change–informed primary care."

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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