Less physically fit children more vulnerable to climate change
Dr. Shonda Morrison, an environmental exercise physiologist at the Faculty of Sport at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, says that, Tolerating high temperatures requires proper physical fitness, children today are fatter and less healthy than ever before.
And it warns that this could expose them to a increased risk of heat-related health problems, such as dehydration, cramps, exhaustion or heat stroke.
The author argues that current climate change policies do not adequately address children’s health needs. Younger people need to be encouraged to take sport into their daily lives if they are to cope with life in an increasingly hot world.
Dr. Morrison has more than 20 years of experience in sports performance research and exercise physiology, particularly in hot and extreme environments.
Their ratings are based on a comprehensive review of more than 150 medical and scientific studies on how children stay physically active, play sports, face the heat and how this may change as global temperatures rise.
Notable research included a survey of 457 primary school children aged 5 to 12 in Thailand, which found that overweight youth were more than twice as likely to have difficulty regulating their temperature body weight than those of normal weight in outdoor exercise.
In another study, data from emergency rooms at children’s hospitals in the US revealed that hotter days had a higher influx. Younger children are more likely to need emergency care.
Research shows that aerobic fitness of children is 30% lower than that of their parents at the same age, which represents a rapid decline in childhood physical activity worldwide, particularly over the past 30 years.
In addition, it has been proven that a large part of children do not meet WHO guidelines to perform at least one hour a day of physical activity. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this physical inactivity, especially in Europe, during the closure of schools and social infrastructure.
As for thermoregulation small children are not small adults, but when exposed to heat they sweat less than adults, they lose heat by increasing blood flow to your skin, a process that can require your heart to work relatively harder.
Despite these differences, most of the research on how the body adapts to higher temperatures has been conducted in adults. The few mechanistic studies have been done in children it was conducted 15-30 years ago when children’s fitness levels were much higher than today.
Beware of unhealthy restrictions
Morrison warns that when parents perceive outdoor temperatures to be too hot for their children to play outside, they often further limit the amount of time they spend on daily physical activity, contributing to a failure to meet minimum levels of exercise to stay healthy.
Furthermore, climate change is expected to cause outbreaks of new diseases. This will have potentially devastating consequences for the physical and mental health of children if movement restrictions are used again as a measure to restrain them.
Treat exercise like a play activity
Dr. Morrison concluded that the healthiest adults have the greatest ability to tolerate heat, due to a combination of physiological, behavioral and psychological factors.
“However, as the world warms, children are least suitable. It is important to encourage them daily physical activities to increase and maintain your fitness, so that they enjoy moving their bodies and don’t feel like work or a duty,” the doctor points out.
What can we do?
Families have an important role to play to play, especially if schools offer little physical education.
It is recommended to combine structured games, such as team sports, and active games with friends and family outdoors.
Morrison recommends, “Make sure activity increases heart rate, enthusiasm and positive energy of all and, more importantly, give it a try does not completely avoid heat, but choose less hot times of day (morning/afternoon) to stay active as we have to keep moving in this new, warming world.