Addressing climate change directly benefits community health, according to Florida health experts

Panelists at the 2021 Florida State of Reform Health Policy Conference discussed the intersection of climate change and public health — two issues that affect Floridians independently, but whose joint implications remain underdiscussed. Joining the conversation was Patrick Breysse, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, Dr. J. Glenn Morris from the Emerging Pathogens Institute, and Dr. Todd Sack from Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility.

 

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One issue that isn’t brought up enough in conversations about climate change, says Breysse, are mental health issues, which can be exacerbated by increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Certain populations, such as first responders and low-income communities are even more at risk for increased levels of stress, depression, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. He says providing education and resources about climate change can help address the mental strain associated with environmental changes.

“In this case, health care providers are a really important asset because they are a trusted resource for communicating health information. Health departments and medical associations can help by designing education, helping educate their people and their patients about these issues of socio-climate change.” 

Dr. Morris expanded on the role of social determinants of health, and the need to look at how exertional risk factors (poor physical fitness, dehydration) and non-exertional risk factors (age, chronic medical conditions) affect population health. 

“Mortality effects are observed even for very small differences from seasonal average temperatures…This is something that I think the medical industry, as it were—particularly those involved in the long term care facilities—need to be acutely aware of.”

Dr. Sack closed out the panel with ways to increase climate education and sustainability practices in medical offices, which account for 28% of the health care industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. Some actions include choosing less environmentally harmful chemicals, avoiding unnecessary use of non-recyclable materials, and incorporating nutritional food plans for both patients and providers. He continued: 

“I think there will be a day soon when every institution in America will realize climate change is terribly, terribly serious.”

Some of these health organizations leading the way towards climate sustainability, according to Dr. Sack, are My Green Doctor and the Escambia County Health Department.