Public Health Climate Change and Human Health
Sotiris Vardoulakis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0077


There is increasing scientific evidence of the direct and indirect effects of climate change on human health. Direct impacts may be linked to changing weather patterns causing droughts, heat waves, floods, and windstorms, while indirect effects are those associated with the redistribution of diseases (e.g., malaria), pollutants (e.g., ozone), resources (e.g., food and water), and populations. Although in certain cases the effects on health are positive (e.g., reduced cold-related mortality in northern Europe), it is recognized that the adverse effects of climate change on human health are likely to outweigh any benefits in most parts of the world, with low-income countries being worst affected. This entry identifies resources that explore the effects of climate change on population health in both developed and developing countries. It also covers subtopics related to vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and related health risk assessment methods.

Introductory Works and Reviews

The references in this section include two introductory books, six reviews on climate change and health published in influential scientific journals, and two papers on the broad topic of climate change and food security. Maslin 2008 provides a short introduction to global warming, while Houghton 2009 gives a more comprehensive account of the science and policy of climate change. Costello, et al. 2009 focuses on managing the health impacts of climate change; Epstein 2005 gives a brief perspective on the health effects of climate change, mainly directed to health professionals; McMichael, et al. 2006 discusses the present and future risks of climate change for human health in a more technical review; Patz, et al. 2005 focuses on vulnerable regions; and St. Louis and Hess 2008 discusses the implications of climate change for global health. Brown and Funk 2008 focuses on the food security consequences of climate change in a paper that can be read in conjunction with LoBell, et al. 2008, which focuses on related needs for adaptation to climate change.

  • Brown, M. E., and C. C. Funk. 2008. Climate: Food security under climate change. Science 319:580–581.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1154102E-mail Citation »

    This paper, published in one of the most influential scientific journals, focuses on the food security consequences of climate change, which are intrinsically related with public health, especially in developing countries.

  • Costello, Anthony, Mustafa Abbas, Adriana Allen, Sarah Ball, Sarah Bell, Richard Bellamy, Sharon Friel, Nora Groce, Anne Johnson, Maria Kett, Maria Lee, Caren Levy, Mark Maslin, David McCoy, Bill McGuire, Hugh Montgomery, David Napier, Christina Pagel, Jinesh Patel, Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira, Nanneke Redclift, Hannah Rees, Daniel Rogger, Joanne Scott, Judith Stephenson, John Twigg, Jonathan Wolff, and Craig Patterson. 2009. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet 373:1693–1733.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60935-1E-mail Citation »

    An extensive, multi-authored review (led by Professor A. Costello, Institute for Global Health, University College London) on the health effects of climate change, written for students and researchers. It makes a very good introductory text and provides a wealth of information and scientific references for more specialized reading.

  • Epstein, Paul R. 2005. Climate change and human health. New England Journal of Medicine 353.14: 1433–1436.

    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp058079E-mail Citation »

    A brief and eloquent perspective on the health effects of climate change, written by the associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, and published in probably the most influential journal of clinical medicine. Epstein is one of the leading voices on this topic.

  • Houghton, John T. 2009. Global warming: The complete briefing. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive, nontechnical account of the science and policy of climate change, including discussions of its causes and effects, impacts on health, and adaptation and mitigation options. It is written as a textbook, with summaries and questions at the end of each chapter, but can be used by the general reader.

  • Lobell, David B., Marshall B. Burke, Claudia Tebaldi, Michael D. Mastrandrea, Walter P. Falcon, Rosamond L. Naylor. 2008. Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319:607–610.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1152339E-mail Citation »

    Presents an analysis based on statistical crop models and climate projections which attempts to identify priorities in adaptation to climate change in different food-insecure regions such as South Asia and southern Africa.

  • Maslin, Mark. 2008. Global warming: A very short introduction. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Informative discussion about the impacts of global warming. It draws on material from the fourth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Parry, et al. 2007, cited under General Reference) and presents the findings for a general readership. The book also discusses the politics of global warming, including adaptation to climate change and mitigation options.

  • McMichael, Anthony J., Rosalie E. Woodruff, and Simon Hales. 2006. Climate change and human health: Present and future risks. Lancet 367:859–869.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68079-3E-mail Citation »

    A concise scientific review of the topic, focusing on certain technical aspects (e.g., whether health effects of climate change are detectable). McMichael is one of the leading authors on this topic. It provides a comprehensive list of scientific references.

  • Patz, Jonathan A., Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Tracey Holloway, and Jonathan A. Foley. 2005. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438:310–317.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature04188E-mail Citation »

    A relatively brief review of the health impacts of climate change, focusing mainly on vulnerable regions. Interesting discussion of the health implications of climate variability, future predictions, and uncertainties. It is a technical reading by some of the leading authors in this research field.

  • St. Louis, Michael E., and J. J. Hess. 2008. Climate change: Impacts on and implications for global health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35.5: 527–538.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.08.023E-mail Citation »

    A concise review of the health impacts of climate change at the global scale (mainly focusing on low-income countries) and implications for the practice of global health. Interesting discussion of promoting mutual awareness between the scientific communities studying global health and climate change.

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