Major journal ties public health, climate change

Source: By Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A leading health journal is devoting an entire issue to climate change — with articles addressing pollution, health effects of climate change, how health care systems can adapt to climate change and policy actions that should be taken to address those issues.

The December issue of Health Affairs — once described as the “bible of health policy” in The Washington Post — includes more than 10 articles related to climate change, marking the journal’s first-ever issue devoted to the intersection of climate and health.

“We decided to devote an entire issue to climate due to the multiple implications of climate for health — from direct effects like hurricanes and heat waves to more distal effects like communicable diseases and air pollution — because climate change is occurring at such a rapid pace, we need the health sector to be more aware and more active on climate issues,” Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil said.

Articles published in the journal today could have policy implications.

In particular, one article from consultants at Analysis Group, an economics consulting firm, found that EPA’s online tool for analyzing the costs of air pollution often underestimates them.

Known as BenMAP-CE, the Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program-Community Edition is often used to calculate the cost of air pollution when EPA conducts its economic analyses of new regulations.

After looking at employer health insurance claims data, the researchers found that for every dollar of costs captured by BenMAP-CE, another 40 cents of costs are actually incurred.

That’s because the EPA database considers only the costs of emergency department and hospital admissions, while, the researchers say, “a more complete accounting of the chain of costs would include ambulatory and other care,” including the costs of doctors’ visits that don’t result in hospitalizations, prescription drugs, medical supplies and at-home health care.

The journal’s publication comes as a growing number of clinicians have called for “climate literacy” to become a larger part of medical training. Indeed, one of the articles published today advocates for broader use of lesson plans on climate change and health produced by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

“Such efforts could empower people of all ages to harness knowledge of the health implications of climate change in support of advocacy and policy change,” researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote.

Their paper follows a separate article published in the journal Academic Medicine this fall advocating that doctors and medical professionals in particular receive more education about climate change and disaster training, even if they are not specializing in trauma care, in order to better treat patients who might be affected by extreme weather events fueled by climate change (Greenwire, Sept. 24).

Indeed, the journal today published multiple articles specifically about health effects of hurricanes, which are expected to increase in power and frequency due to climate change. Two of those studies look at the lasting mental health effects hurricanes can leave with survivors.