Temperatures are rising globally and 2023 is believed to have been the hottest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The dangers of excessive heat can make certain populations especially vulnerable, including the elderly and young children. Thus greater attention is critical in understanding how extreme heat effects pregnancy, infancy, and childhood—potentially impacting lifelong health and development.

The Early Childhood Scientific Council on Equity and the Environment has recently published a paper titled “Extreme Heat Affects Early Childhood Development and Health” that examines how excessive heat can affect young children’s biological systems, ranging from cognitive function to the immune system to skin and gut response. The paper also provides strategies to mitigate the impact of extreme temperatures including immediate actions and resources to improve children’s health and wellbeing.

“In this report, we dive into the science behind how heat impacts child health and discuss practical actions that communities and organizations can take to implement solutions,” said council member Alison G. Lee, MD, MS, Associate Division Chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Given our understanding of how the environment in early life influences life course health, these actions have the potential to improve long-term health.”

Dr. Lee is available to discuss:

  • Climatic conditions and how they can disrupt normal physiological responses
  • Heat stress and how it impacts babies and toddlers differently than adults
  • Factors such as economic status, nutrition and diet, living conditions or geographic location, and how they shape outcomes from extreme temperatures
  • Structural disadvantages, such as redlined neighborhoods, and how it can amplify the effects of systemic inequities

This working paper is the first in a series about the impacts of the environment on child health by the Early Childhood Scientific Council on Equity and the Environment, which is housed at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. The Council, established in 2023, is a multi-disciplinary, cross-organizational collaboration that aims to leverage both scientific and community-informed perspectives to help policymakers and leaders across a range of sectors understand and mobilize around a prenatal and early childhood perspective that is rooted in working toward fairness of place for all children, with particular attention to communities of color and people living in poverty.