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President Obama, Others Link Climate Change to Public Health

barack obama

Debates on climate change can break down fairly fast. There are those who believe that mankind's activities are changing the planet's climate, and those who don't.

But a new way to talk about climate change is emerging, which shifts focus from impersonal discussions about greenhouse gas emissions and power plants to a very personal one: your health.

It's easy to brush aside debates involving major international corporations, but who wouldn't stop to think -- and perhaps do something -- about their own health, or the health of their children?

This new way of talking about climate change -- and linking it to public health issues -- was part of a roundtable discussion Tuesday at Howard University's College of Medicine. President Barack Obama joined U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for a roundtable discussion on the topic as part of National Public Health Week.

"I think we've always known -- or at least in the 20th century we've understood -- that environment has an impact on public health," the President told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

"I remember when I first went to college in Los Angeles in 1979, the air was so bad that you couldn't go running outside," Obama said. "You'd have air quality alerts, and people who had respiratory problems or were vulnerable had to stay inside. We took action, and the air's a lot better."

"There are a whole host of public health impacts that are going to hit home, so we've got to do better in protecting vulnerable Americans," Obama continued. "Ultimately, though, all of our families are going to be vulnerable. You can't cordon yourself off from air or climate."

Murthy revealed to the group that asthma is a personal issue for him, as a favorite uncle died from a severe attack when he was younger.

"It's also personal to me because I've cared for many patients over the years who have suffered from asthma and have seen firsthand how frightening it can be to suddenly be wheezing and fighting for every breath," Murthy said. "Asthma can be very difficult for patients, but also for their families. The impacts of climate change could make the situation worse."

"This is not just a future threat -- this is a present threat," said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to the President.

Deese cited a recent study by the American Thoracic Society that found seven out of 10 doctors reported climate change is contributing to more health problems among their patients.


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