Record levels of obesity and physical inactivity among children mean they are set to bear the brunt of poorer health effects from rising global temperatures, warns a new comprehensive review of studies.
While physical fitness is key to tolerating higher temperatures, children are more obese and less fit than ever before, argues Dr Shawnda Morrison, an environmental exercise physiologist, from Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana.
This could put them at greater risk of suffering heat-related health problems, such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
She noted that current climate change policies fail to adequately address child health needs and that encouraging children to make exercise part of their everyday lives must be prioritized if they are to cope with living in a hotter world.
In the peer-reviewed journal Temperature, her team assessed a comprehensive review of over 150 medical and scientific studies into how children maintain physical activity, exercise, cope with heat, and how this might change as global temperatures rise.
The research, she highlights includes a study of 457 primary school 5-12 year old boys in Thailand, which found that overweight youngsters were more than twice as likely to have difficulty regulating their body temperature as those of normal weight when exercising outdoors.
In another study, data from emergency departments at children’s hospitals in the US, found attendance was higher during hotter days. Younger children were particularly likely to need emergency care.
The research also found children’s aerobic fitness is 30 per cent lower than that of their parents at the same age.
There are rapid declines in children’s physical activity globally, especially over the last 30 years.
Most children are not meeting the World Health Organization’s guideline of performing an average of at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Physical inactivity was accelerated, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when schools and other societal infrastructures were closed.
Higher temperatures and changes in weather patterns are projected to also lead to outbreaks of new diseases entering the human population. If there are more movement restrictions put in place to contain the novel diseases, this will have potentially devastating consequences to children’s physical fitness, mental and physical health.
“Yet, as the world warms, children are the least fit they have ever been. It is imperative that children are encouraged to do daily physical activity to build up, and maintain, their fitness, so that they enjoy moving their bodies and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ or ‘a chore’ to them,” Morrison said.