NEHA March 2024 Journal of Environmental Health


Open Access

 DIRECT FROM ecoAmerica


Women, Climate Change, and Health: A Call for Action

Nicole Hill, MPH

Sweta Waghela, MPH

ricanes were at elevated risks for intrapar- tum fetal stress and low birth weight (Sbi- roli et al., 2022). Beyond the initial trauma of these disasters, stress and limited access to healthcare services contribute signifi- cantly to maternal mortality, a critical issue that is more prevalent in the U.S. compared to other wealthy nations (MacDorman et al., 2016). The maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. is disproportion- ately high. In 2021, the maternal mortal- ity rate for Black women was 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women (Hoyert, 2023). Communities of color and lower-income communities also face higher exposure to extreme weather and climate- influenced disasters, compounding the inequitable risk factors. The mental health impacts of climate change on women’s health extend beyond reproductive health. The disproportionate burden placed on women as caregivers for children, older adults, and relatives with disabilities exacerbates their exposure and risk in various ways. Providing support to others during disasters and their aftermath is complicated, stressful, and sometimes risky. Research indicates that after flooding and disasters, women face higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health struggles (Asim et al., 2022; Rhodes et al., 2010). The aftermath of disasters is not just stressful but can also be extremely danger- ous. The breakdown of social structures during these crises can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, leaving women at height- ened risk. Studies indicate high rates of sexual violence and intimate partner vio- lence after climate disasters (Thurston et al.,

Editor’s Note: The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) strives to provide up-to-date and relevant information on environmental health and to build partnerships in the profession. In pursuit of these goals, we feature this column from ecoAmerica whose mission is to build public support and political resolve for climate solutions. We are an ocial partner of ecoAmerica and we work closely with their Climate for Health Program, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. The conclusions in this column are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the ocial position of NEHA. Nicole Hill is the research and marketing manager for ecoAmerica. Sweta Waghela is a health equity fellow at Climate for Health within ecoAmerica.

M arch is Women’s History Month, which provides us a moment to shed light on the intersectionality of gender, climate change, and health. How climate change unfolds in our communities, such as through rising temperatures, extreme weather, and changing disease patterns has profound negative impacts on human health. These health eects are far-reaching and aect people of dierent genders dierently. Accord- ing to the United Nations Framework Conven- tion on Climate Change (n.d.), women face higher risks and experience a greater burden of climate change impacts. Particularly in low- and middle-income countries, climate change poses a threat to exacerbate existing gender- based health disparities, but women in the U.S. also face disproportionate health impacts from climate change (Hayden et al., 2023; Romanel- lo et al., 2023). There is an urgent need for action by com- munity members and health professionals

to advocate for policies and practices that protect women’s health in the face of climate change. By understanding the intersections of gender, climate change, and health, we can work to safeguard the well-being of people at greatest risk from climate impacts. The ramifications of climate change on women’s health are multifaceted, with pro- found impacts on reproductive health. One of the clearest consequences of climate change is extreme heat. In pregnancies, extreme heat has been linked to adverse outcomes such as preterm delivery, lower birth weight, and still- birth (Bekker et al., 2020; Masson-Delmotte et al., 2021). Additionally, as climate change worsens air quality (e.g., wildfire smoke), the risk is heightened for low birth weight and preterm birth (Amjad et al., 2021). In addition to direct physical exposures, climate disasters impact maternal health. A review of literature in 2022 reported that pregnant individuals who experienced hur-


Volume 86 • Number 7

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