Do Americans Know the Health Impacts of Global Warming?

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The majority of Americans believe that global warming is real. However, citizens’ understanding of climate-driven health risks has not been described. Dr. Edward Maibach and his team conducted an online survey of US adults to measure respondents’ understanding of the impact of global warming on human health.

As shown in the Figure, survey participants were asked an open-ended question, “In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans currently experiencing, if any?” More than half of the 1,275 respondents didn’t provide a response or know of an answer. Eleven percent believed that no health impacts exist. Only 27% named a health-related problem. Respiratory diseases were most frequently cited as a threatened health condition (14%), followed by injuries or deaths due to extreme weather (6%), and skin cancers and other skin diseases (5%). Americans rarely identified other well-known climate-driven health problems such as the spread of insect-borne diseases, the contamination of food and water, and threats to food supplies and mental health, which may not yet be perceived to be as pervasive in the United States .

Graphic: Global warming-related health problems identified by respondents (unprompted). Author’s Note on this figure in the original study: Most of the health issues listed above are projected to increase due to climate change; currently, however, we have only limited evidence that climate change will increase skin cancer, and no evidence that it will increase heart disease or other cancers. These responses might, therefore, be considered inaccurate. From The Annals of Global Health, “Do Americans Understand That Global Warming Is Harmful to Human Health? Evidence From a National Survey,” Edward W. Maibach, Jennifer M. Kreslake, Connie Roser Renouf, Seth  Rosenthal, Geoff Feinberg, Anthony A. Leiserowitz, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aogh.2015.08.010

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