Why Climate Change Matters to Patient Health and Chronic Disease

By: Lillian Witting, MPH, Coordinator, Research, Education, & Programs

Climate change has been a growing public health concern in recent years and its link to human health makes it an important topic for patient-centered research. Recently, the National Health Council (NHC) published a research brief on Climate Change and its Impact on Patient Health and the Health Care Ecosystem to shed light on cross-cutting issues. The research brief details health outcomes from climate events, barriers to treatment, inequities that arise, and knowledge gaps in patient experience research.

Climate impacts patient health in the following examples:

  • Rising temperatures and heat waves put patients at higher risk for chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.1-4
  • Increased pollen and pollution in the air can worsen asthma, allergies, and other respiratory diseases.5-7
  • Severe storms can halt or damage transportation infrastructure that patients may rely on to access treatment.8

In addition to health outcomes, the health system is often overburdened during natural disasters that have increased in frequency and severity over recent years. Other socioeconomic factors also play a role in how patients and communities prepare and recover from climate events. As patient communities grapple with these changes, this is an opportunity for patient-focused organizations and multilevel stakeholders to collaborate and expand research on how climate plays a role for patients living with a chronic disease or condition.

This is the first in a potential ongoing research series that aims to highlight certain issues that intersect climate and health. We view our NHC members as critical partners in combating climate change through the promotion of evidence-based information and science that inform our patients, advocates, caregivers, and policymakers.

You can download the research brief HERE.


  1. Wang JC, Chien WC, Chu P, Chung CH, Lin CY, Tsai SH. The association between heat stroke and subsequent cardiovascular diseases. PloS One. 2019;14(2):e0211386. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211386
  2. Barraclough KA, Blashki GA, Holt SG, Agar JWM. Climate change and kidney disease—threats and opportunities. Kidney Int. 2017;92(3):526-530. doi:10.1016/j.kint.2017.03.047
  3. Natur S, Damri O, Agam G. The Effect of Global Warming on Complex Disorders (Mental Disorders, Primary Hypertension, and Type 2 Diabetes). Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(15):9398. doi:10.3390/ijerph19159398
  4. Zhang W, Spero TL, Nolte CG, et al. Projected Changes in Maternal Heat Exposure During Early Pregnancy and the Associated Congenital Heart Defect Burden in the United States. J Am Heart Assoc. 2019;8(3):e010995. doi:10.1161/JAHA.118.010995
  5. Pacheco SE, Guidos-Fogelbach G, Annesi-Maesano I, et al. Climate change and global issues in allergy and immunology. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021;148(6):1366-1377. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2021.10.011
  6. Achakulwisut P, Brauer M, Hystad P, Anenberg SC. Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO2 pollution: estimates from global datasets. Lancet Planet Health. 2019;3(4):e166-e178. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30046-4
  7. Reid CE, Maestas MM. Wildfire smoke exposure under climate change: impact on respiratory health of affected communities. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2019;25(2):179-187. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000552

8. Chandra A, Marsh T, Madrigano J, et al. Health and Social Services in Puerto Rico Before and After Hurricane Maria. Rand Health Q. 2021;9(2):10.