The public health consequences of cold and heat temperature extremes are substantial. Although adults can actively seek help, children cannot; they depend on the adults in their lives to get them the assistance they need. If a disaster or emergency occurs during at a time when there are already extreme temperatures, children will be much more severely affected. The first step in supporting children in a disaster is to ensure that their basic needs are met (the most basic of which is physical safety [supervision and shelter] along with safe food and drinking water). Pediatricians can:
- Help families plan ahead to address day-to-day or emergencies or disaster situations where children might be affected by extreme temperatures.
- Provide anticipatory guidance to families on home disaster preparedness while considering the unique problems of children and youth with special health care needs.
- Encourage families to prepare an emergency kit and develop a family emergency plan. See the AAP Family Readiness Kit.
- Advocate for local, state, child care facility, and school-related disaster plans to address children's needs.
- Collaborate with Head Start and other early education and child care programs, as well as schools, on protocols and plans for when it is appropriate for children to play outdoors. See the Caring for Our Standard on Playing Outdoors and a sample Child Care Weather Watch chart.
Heat and cold stress are environmental hazards. Because of their unique physiology, children are more susceptible to temperature extremes and their health effects. Children are less able to regulate their body temperature compared with adults. As a result, children are more likely to develop significant health effects when they are exposed to environmental temperature extremes. These temperature extremes can result from natural or manmade causes. Natural causes include heat waves, unseasonably cold weather, wildfires and winter storms. Manmade events can result from inadequate home heating or cooling, extended exposure to temperature extremes without proper gear and overheated environments, including automobiles.
American Academy of Pediatrics