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Tim Takaro

Investigating how climate change impacts health

September 17, 2008

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The environment’s impact on health is huge, and a warming planet isn’t helping the matter. Rising concerns about global climate change have researchers like Tim Takaro trying to understand how its impact will affect people and their communities.

"Climate change is already affecting health around the world; last year environmental refugees outnumbered all other refugees," says Takaro, an associate professor in health sciences at SFU.

Effects of climate change are also evident in B.C. and especially northern Canada, he notes, pointing to growing concerns about water quality and air pollution (linked to heart disease and decreased lung function), impacts on natural resources and agriculture, as well as water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

Takaro’s latest research includes identifying the risks to B.C. communities from climate-related hazards. Along with colleagues in SFU’s new Climate Impacts research group it will include identifying populations vulnerable to heat waves and air pollution, and helping to identify public health efforts to reduce related health effects in the province. It’s hoped that such efforts can be applied elsewhere in the world.

Takaro, who is also a physician, studies disease susceptibility factors in environmental as well as occupational health, including inflammatory lung conditions such as asthma, chronic beryllium disease and asbestosis.

He is currently part of a $12 million national study investigating the rise in respiratory illness in children. The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study hopes to determine why, over the past three decades, the illness has doubled in Canadian children five to 18 years — and quadrupled in low-income families. Takaro and the team will track 5,000 children to determine what role the environment may play.

Takaro also collaborated with U.S. researchers to study a Seattle housing development — and determined that homes that were environmentally friendly and designed with health in mind may reduce asthma symptoms in children as much or more than medication.

Takaro notes several links between asthma and climate change with changes in pollen seasons and air pollution.

"Climate change is a really ‘big picture’ issue for public health," says Takaro,

"Yes, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but we already know our children will inherit a warmer world. We know there will be greater stress on the public health systems. I don’t think we’re ready for these changes yet."
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