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Climate change could put public's health at risk

A study from the Trust for America's Health says few states are preparing for the health problems that could occur because of global warming.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Nov. 17, 2009

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A new report found that nearly all communities in the U.S. face added health risks because of climate change, but few states have developed plans to address this.

"Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health," by Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit organization that focuses on disease prevention, found that just five states -- California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington -- have published climate change plans that include a public health response. The study is available at the group's Web site (link).

"Although 28 other states had climate change plans, those plans did not include a public health component," the organization's executive director, Jeffrey Levi, PhD, said at an Oct. 26 briefing. "As countries around the world work to address climate change, federal, state and local governments in the United States need to ramp up activities to protect people from the health harms it poses."

All regions in the U.S. are threatened, the report said. Urban communities are more likely to encounter severe flooding and heat waves, rural communities face storm damage and reduced water resources, coastal areas could see an increase in floods, and mountain regions are at risk from melting glaciers and snow.

All communities could experience new vector-borne infectious diseases generally seen only in warmer climates.

"The health threats from climate change are very real," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Global Warming Campaign, which helped fund the report. It advocates climate change legislation that Congress began debating in early November.

The American Medical Association supports research on health-related climate change policy and encourages doctors to work with health departments on health consequences of global warming. In November 2008, the AMA's House of Delegates endorsed the findings of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says Earth is getting hotter, and most of the temperature rise in the last 50 years is attributable to human activity.

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