Reports

Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health

October 2009

Texas Does Not Have a Plan for Addressing the Health Impact of Climate Change, New Report Finds

Media Contact: Laura Segal (202) 223-9870 x 27 or lsegal@tfah.org.

(October 26, 2009, Washington, DC) — Trust for America's Health (TFAH) released a new report today that finds only five states have published a strategic climate change plan that includes a public health response. The five states include California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington. This includes planning for health challenges and emergencies expected to develop from natural disasters, pollution, and infectious diseases as temperatures and sea levels rise.

Twenty-eight additional states have published a strategic climate change plan, but the plan does not include a public health response to climate change. Seventeen states, including Texas, have not published a strategic climate change plan.

The Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health report examines U.S. planning for changing health threats posed by climate change, such as heat-related sickness, respiratory infections, natural disasters, changes to the food supply, and infectious diseases carried by insects.

"The changing environment has serious ramifications for our health," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "In the near future, more extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and worsening air quality mean we'll see an upswing in climate-related illnesses and injuries. As countries around the world work to address climate change, federal, state, and local governments around the United States need to ramp up activities to protect people from the harms it poses to our health."

"States are already overwhelmed by existing public health responsibilities, so we face a serious challenge as we see these new climate change related problems on the horizon. States and communities will need more resources to effectively plan and prepare for them," Levi continued.

The report contains a number of state-based indicators related to efforts in the state or federal funding the state has received to prepare for public health implications of climate change.

Texas: Climate Change Public Health Indicators

1. Is Texas one of five states that have published a climate change plan detailing the role of public health in preventing and preparing for climate change? no
2. Is Texas one of 12 states that have a climate change commission or advisory panel that includes a representative from the state department of public health? no
3. Is Texas one of 22 states that received grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for Environmental Health Tracking in 2009? no
4. Is Texas one of 33 states that received grants from the CDC for asthma prevention in 2009? yes
5. Is Texas one of 49 states that received funding for an Arbovirus Vector-borne Disease Surveillance System (ArboNET) -- used to track diseases spread through mosquitoes and other insects -- in 2009? yes

According to Health Problems Heat Up, communities across the United States are at-risk for negative health effects associated with climate change. Urban communities face natural disasters, such as floods and heat waves. Rural communities may be threatened by food insecurity due to shifts in crop growing conditions, reduced water resources, heat, and storm damage. Costal and low-lying areas could see an increase in floods, hurricanes, and tropical storms. Mountain regions are at risk of increasing heat and vector-borne diseases due to the melting of mountain glaciers and changes in snow melt. And communities around the country could experience new insect-based infectious diseases that used to only be affiliated with high temperature regions.

The report contains a series of policy recommendations, including:

  • Congress should provide funding for state and local health departments to conduct needs assessments and strategic planning for public health considerations of climate change;
  • The White House and the federal interagency working group on climate change should take into account the potential health implications of policies and programs under consideration;
  • Congress should increase support for tracking of environmental effects on health and research into the health effects of climate change;
  • CDC should set national guidelines and measures for core public health functions related to climate change, and in exchange for federal funding for climate change planning and response, CDC should require states and localities to report the findings to both the public and the federal government;
  • All state and local health departments should include public health considerations as part of climate change plans, including conducting needs assessments, developing strategic plans, and creating public education campaigns; and
  • Special efforts must be made to address the impact of climate change on at-risk and vulnerable communities.

The U.S. Senate is in the process of developing comprehensive climate change legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a climate change bill that would direct the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a national strategic action plan on climate change. This plan would encourage health professionals to prepare for and respond to the impact of climate change on public health in the United States and globally. The House bill also includes a Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Fund to provide the funds needed to develop and carry out the strategic plan.

The full Health Problems Heat Up report, including state-specific information, is available on TFAH's web site www.healthyamericans.org. The report was supported by a grant from The Pew Environment Group, which is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority.