Facts at a Glance

Science has shown that our health, and our children’s health, is being directly and seriously impacted by the changing climate. The Make It Better campaign was developed by the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) in partnership with leading health and environmental working to protect children’s health from climate change.


  • Over 13 % of Canadian children and youth are living with asthma. It is one of the leading causes of childhood hospital admissions in Canada7.
  • Untreated, asthma can be life-threatening8.
  • Children from the lowest income neighborhoods in Canada are hospitalized for asthma 1.5 times more than those from the highest income neighborhoods9.
  • Air pollution, dust, forest fire smoke and pollen are key triggers for asthma attacks10.
  • Every year, air pollution is estimated to cause 2.7 million asthma symptom days, 42,500 child acute bronchitis episodes and 14,600 premature deaths in Canada11.
  • Climate change means longer, drier and warmer summers, increasing air pollution risks from forest fires, dust storms, pollen and smog-forming chemical reactions12.

Heat-Related Illness

  • Children are among the most vulnerable to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses13.
  • Children most at risk of heat illnesses include those with breathing difficulties (asthma), heart conditions, kidney problems, mental and physical disabilities, developmental disorders, diarrhea and those who take certain medications14.
  • Extreme heat was associated with a 22% increase in emergency department visits among children in Southwestern Ontario – based on a study that examined hospital and meteorological data from 2002 to 201915.
  • Climate change is leading to more and more extreme heat days16.
  • In the near future (between 2021-2050), the City of London, Ontario could see over 30 extreme heat days annually, and 60 extreme heat days by 2080 – that’s 3 times more in the near future, and 6 times more by 2080, than what the city experienced in the recent past (1976-2005) 17.
  • By 2051-2080, a heat wave in Ottawa could last for longer than 17 days. Historically, the longest heat wave would be closer to just 4 days18.
  • 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years on record globally19, with North America experiencing its warmest August on record20.

Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease cases reported in Ontario increased 2-fold to 1,154 cases in 2019 compared to the 5-year average of 556 reported between 2014 and 201821.
  • Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are particularly vulnerable. If not treated early, the disease can last years and lead to arthritis, paralysis and, in rare cases, death22.
  • Climate change has contributed to the spread of the tick that transmits Lyme disease23.
  • Extended, warmer seasons mean disease-carrying tick populations can grow, spread, and be active longer24.

Defining Health Inequalities and Health Inequities

  • Significant health inequalities (or differences in health status) exist among Canadians, in particular, among those with lower socio-economic status (income, education, employment), Indigenous people, sexual and racial minorities, immigrants, and people with physical or mental impairments25.
  • Health inequalities experienced among certain population groups because of social disadvantages, and that can be avoided by societal action, are deemed inequitable26.
  • “Racialized Canadians experience lower rates of income, higher rates of unemployment, and lower occupational status that threaten not only their physical, mental, and social health, but also the overall health and well-being of Canadian society.” 27
  • Example of a health inequity: childhood asthma hospitalization rates in Canada
    • The likelihood of Canadian children experiencing childhood afflictions such as asthma and injuries, are strongly related to the inequities they experience – often described as the social determinants of health28.
    • Asthma hospitalization rates for children and youth in Canada, from 2006 and 2015, were about 1.5 times higher in the lowest-income neighbourhoods compared with the highest-income neighbourhoods29

Climate Inequities and Health

  • Climate change will affect everyone in Canada, but those already experiencing health inequities, will be disproportionately impacted30. Unequal distribution of income, education, and social and environmental conditions contribute to these inequities31.
  • Marginalized groups who tend to be the most affected by the health impacts of climate change are: Indigenous peoples, children, seniors, women, people with low-socioeconomic status, outdoor labourers, racialized people, immigrants, and people with pre-existing health conditions32.

Poverty and Income

Inequalities in children in low income families in Canada33

  • Approximately 1 in 6 children live in households experiencing poverty.
  • Low income affects the capacity to live in quality housing, have access to healthy foods, and is associated with unfavourable physical and mental health outcomes as children age.

The proportion of children in Canada living in low income families34 is:

  • 2.2 times higher among those who are recent immigrants than among those who are non-immigrants
  • 2.7 times higher among Black Canadians, 2.0 times higher among Arab, South Asian and West Asian Canadians, and 1.7 times higher among East and Southeast Asian Canadians, than among White Canadians

Indigenous children in Canada are at greater risk of living in low income families35, where the proportion is:

  • 2.6 times higher among First Nations children and 1.4 times higher among Métis children, than among non-Indigenous children

Food Insecurity

  • 12.7% of Canadian households and 13.3% of Ontario households experience some level of food insecurity. There were4.4 million people in Canada, including more than 1.2 million children under the age of 18, living in food-insecure households in 2017-1836.
  • Household food insecurity in Canada is higher for families with children (17.3 %),in female lone-parent families (33.1 percent) and families receiving social assistance (60.4 percent) 37.
  • Prevalence of household food insecurity in Canada is3.7X higher among Inuit; 2.7X higher among First Nations living off reserve; and 2.2X higher among Métis. than among non-Indigenous adults38.


  • 9.4 million Canadians live in housing below standards39
  • Housing below standards is:
  • 2.0 times higher among recent immigrants than among Canadian-born people
  • 1.8 times higher among visible minority Canadians than among non-visible minority Canadians
  • Poor housing conditions and overcrowding contribute to higher rates of respiratory infections in First Nations and Inuit children in Canada40,41.
  • In 2016, one in five (19.4%) of Indigenous people in Canada lived in housing that was in need of major repairs and 18.3% lived in housing that was crowded42.

Environmental Exposures

Climate Inequities and Environmental Exposure – Air Pollution, Extreme Heat and Flood Risks

  • Low income neighbourhoods are more likely to be situated in areas more susceptible to environmental exposures and climate-related health impacts such as high traffic corridors (vehicle pollution), flood-prone areas (unsafe housing and water contamination), or neighbourhoods lacking adequate greenspace (exposure to hotter temperatures and solar radiation)43.
  • Marginalized individuals and communities are less likely to have the ability to access air conditioned spaces during an extreme heat event, access health services and social supports, relocate away from areas of poorer air quality or protect their homes from the impacts of extreme weather events such as flooding or wind storms 44.

Climate Inequities and Extreme Heat

  • Young children, people with chronic illnesses, occupational groups such as construction workers, physically active people, Indigenous Canadians, the marginally housed or homeless, and socially isolated seniors, are particularly at risk from extreme heat45.
  • There is growing evidence of the disproportionate heat- and air-pollution-related health burdens associated with unequal distribution of green space in urban neighbourhoods46.
  • Marginalized populations and lower income neighbourhoods are disproportionately impacted by hotter temperatures in urban areas – referred to as urban heat islands (UHIs), as these neighbourhoods often lack vegetation (e.g., fewer street trees and less green space) and have more heat-absorbing surfaces, such as pavement, which are two of the main contributors to UHIs47.

Mental Health

  • Mental illness affects 1.2 million children and youth in Canada48.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 children and youth in Ontario has a mental health challenge. About 70% of mental health challenges have their onset in childhood or youth49.
  • Hospitalizations for mental disorders experienced by children and youth in Canada has increased 60% over the past 10 years (2008/09 to 2018/19); with emergency department visits increasing by 61% for the same time period50.

Climate Inequities and Mental Health

  • The most marginalized people are especially vulnerable to climate-related mental health impacts51.
  • Children are at increased vulnerability to anxiety, depression, behavioral disruption, and post-traumatic stress disorder following natural disasters such as fires, floods, other climate-related events52.
  • As the frequency, intensity and duration of climate change events and effects increases, so to are climate-related mental health outcomes53.
  • Psychological impacts from disasters exceed physical injury by as much as 40 to one54.

Early Child Development

Inequalities in early childhood development in Canada55

  • 1 in 4 Canadian children are vulnerable in at least one of five developmental areas (physical health and well-being; social competence; language and thinking skills; communication skills and general knowledge; and, understanding and managing emotions). Developmental vulnerabilities may lead to poorer health and social outcomes in later life.
  • Children in lower income communities or living in areas with lower material and social resources, experience the greatest inequalities. Vulnerability in early childhood development:
  • 2.2X higher in materially and socially deprived communities,
  • 1.8X higher in the lowest-income communities,
  • 2.0X higher among Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children

Climate Change and COVID-19

Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 & Climate Change

  • With climate change, we can expect more epidemics of diseases endemic to Canada, and possible introduction of new diseases56.
  • Many of the root causes of climate change, such as deforestation and loss of animal habitat, also increase the risk of pandemics, such as the coronavirus. Habitat loss forces animals to migrate, increasing the risk of transmission of infectious diseases from animals to animals and animals to humans. 57

Air Pollution, COVID-19 and Climate Change

  • Exposure to air pollution increases susceptibility to respiratory viral infections and pneumonia. This puts people exposed to higher levels of air pollution at greater risk of becoming ill with COVID-19 and experiencing the most severe outcomes58.

Heat Illness, COVID-19 and Climate Change

  • COVID-19 increases heat health risks for many people. People who are most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and heat-illness include seniors, people with underlying physical and mental health conditions, people who are marginalized and isolated (experiencing homelessness, migrants with language barriers, old people living alone) and those with low income or inadequate housing. 59

Inequities, COVID-19 and Climate Change

  • Recent studies from the United States have shown that people with chronic health conditions, lower-income, and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by both COVID-19 and climate change60.
  • Neighbourhoods in Ontario experiencing the highest levels of material deprivation (connected to poverty and a proxy for the ability of individuals and communities to attain basic needs for daily living such as income and quality housing) experience disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 and related hospitalizations and deaths compared to neighbourhoods experiencing lower levels of material deprivation. The rate of COVID-19 infections in the neighbourhoods experiencing the highest levels of material deprivation was almost two times higher than the rate in the neighbourhoods experiencing lower levels of material deprivation 61.
  • The most ethno-culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Ontario, primarily those concentrated in large urban areas, are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 and related deaths compared to neighbourhoods that are the less diverse. The rate of COVID-19 infections in the most diverse neighbourhoods was three times higher than the rate in the least diverse neighbourhoods62. Ethnic concentration of an area is used as a proxy for structural racism and discrimination63.

References available here