April 29, 2016
2 min read

ACP: Physicians can help tackle public health threat of climate change

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Climate change poses a significant threat to public health and needs to be addressed by drastic actions in part by physicians and the health care community, according to the American College of Physicians.

Ryan A. Crowley, BSJ, on behalf of the Health and Public Policy Committee of the ACP, wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine that increased prevalence of waterborne and vectorborne diseases, malnutrition, food and water insecurity, and higher rates of heat-related and respiratory illnesses are potential effects of climate change on human health. Those who are poor, sick or elderly are even more vulnerable to these issues.

“The American College of Physicians urges physicians to help combat climate change by advocating for effective climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, helping to advance a low-carbon health care sector, and by educating communities about potential health dangers posed by climate change,” Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, ACP president, said in a press release. “We need to take action now to protect the health of our community’s most vulnerable members — including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor — because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed.”

ACP outlined five specific recommendations regarding climate change in the paper:

  • The United States should take the lead and collaborate in the development and implementation of reducing greenhouse emissions;
  • The health care community within the United States should implement energy-efficient practices and prepare for the effects of climate change in their patients;
  • Physicians should advocate for climate change policies, both individually and collectively;
  • Physicians should educate themselves on climate change and how it will affect human health; and
  • Governments throughout the world should provide funding for climate change research in order to mitigate human health effects.

“Office-based physicians and their staffs can also play a role by taking action to achieve energy and water efficiency, using renewable energy, expanding recycling programs, and using low-carbon or zero-carbon transportation,” Riley said.

Riley also noted that ACP has international chapters throughout the world that can provide support.

“This paper was written not only to support advocacy for changes by the U.S. government to mitigate climate change, but to provide our international chapters and internal medicine colleagues with policies and analysis that they can use to advocate with their own governments, colleagues, and the public, and for them to advocate for changes to reduce their own health systems impact,” he said in the release.

"There is broad consensus among climate scientists that the planet is warming, despite the continued public policy debate and the dissenting views of a relatively small number of persons in the scientific community," Crowley wrote. "The medical profession — by being an objective and trusted source of information about the effects of climate change on health — must be at the fore of this opportunity to make Earth a sustainable home for future generations." – by Chelsea Frajerman Pardes

Disclosures: Financial support for the development of this guideline comes exclusively from the ACP operating budget.