Yale Study Finds Americans Ignorant of Health Impacts From Global Warming
When the average American thinks about how climate change-caused global warming could affect their health, what do they think of? Not much, apparently, according to a new study, Public Perceptions of the Health Impacts of Global Warming, just released by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The study is based on the results of a survey, Climate Change in the American Mind. The researchers found that Americans largely haven't thought about the health impacts of global warming at all.
"Few Americans have thought much about the health consequences of global warming," they said. "Asked how often, if at all, before taking this survey they had thought about how global warming might affect people’s health, six in 10 said they had given the issue little or no thought. Only one in 10 said they had given the issue a 'great deal' of thought and only about two in 10 (22 percent) said they had thought about it a 'moderate amount.'"
Asked "In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?," 43 percent offered no answer and 14 percent said they didn't know. Ten percent answered incorrectly that there are no problems, while 27 percent named one. The respondents who correctly identified at least one health problem primarily mentioned either asthma and other lung diseases (14 percent) or the impacts of extreme weather events (6 percent). Fewer than 5 percent were able to name anything else, such as diseases carried by tainted water, food and ticks.
The study found on question after question that large numbers of respondents didn't know or were wrong. Only one in three respondents (31 percent) thought global warming was impacting the health of Americans now, and only 17 percent thought it was affecting their own health or that of members of their household. Only one in three respondents knew that some groups of people—including the elderly, children and the poor—were more likely to suffer health impacts than others (32 percent); most were not sure (43 percent).
Needless to say, they were equally unaware of the health impacts of global warming worldwide. Most said they weren't sure how many people are impacted around the globe, and a third thought people would suffer no health consequences now or in the future. Only 12-15 percent thought thousands or millions of people around the world are sickened, injured or die because of global warming. And only slightly more than a third thought smog, pollen-related allergies, asthma and other lung diseases, heat stroke and injuries from storms would become more common in their community in the next decade.
Still, almost half of Americans felt government agencies should do more to address such health-related issues, including federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Congress or their state government. More support than oppose more funding for government agencies to deal with public health problems arising from global warming but about three in ten had no opinion.
The survey suggests an avenue for increasing public awareness. Nearly half (49 percent) said they are likely to trust their primary care doctor's opinion on the matter, while forty-one percent said they would trust family or friends with a similar number saying they would trust the CDC. They were least likely to trust the opinion of religious leaders and the military on the topic.
In an editorial published yesterday in Bristol, Virginia's TriCities.com, as well as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia pediatrician Jerome A. Paulson, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, wrote, "As a pediatrician who cares for children from the tri-state area, I have witnessed the harmful effects of air pollution on children in our local communities, especially in the form of exacerbated or new asthma symptoms. Without action, these cases will only become more frequent and more severe."
He strongly advocated for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed carbon emission reduction rule, saying, "Despite these alarming statistics and the imminent health effects of climate change, the public health perspective has been notably absent from discussions of the EPA’s new rule to reduce carbon emission. Ignoring the impact of air pollution on public health is leaving out an important piece of the puzzle."
"Public health actions, especially preparedness and prevention, can do much to protect people from some of the impacts of climate change," said the Yale/George Mason University researchers. "Early action provides the largest health benefits. As threats increase, our ability to adapt to future changes may be limited."
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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