President Obama says that climate change became a personal issue for him when his older daughter Malia, now 16, was rushed to the emergency room with an asthma attack when she was just a toddler.
“Well you know Malia had asthma when she was 4 and because we had good health insurance, we were able to knock it out early….” the president told ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, in a one-on-one interview yesterday. “And if we can make sure that our responses to the environment are reducing those incidents, that's something that I think every parent would wish for…”
Besser, who met with the president yesterday at Howard University's Health Sciences Simulation Lab, asked the president why people should care about the impact of climate change on public health when there are so many other pressing health problems.
“Keep in mind that climate change is just one more example of how the environment will cause health problems, and I think most people understand that,” the president responded.
Obama said that when he went to college in 1979 in Los Angeles, he could feel his lungs burn after about five minutes of running outside because the smog and pollution were so bad.
We took steps to deal with it, and today, it's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better,” Obama said. “And the same thing is true with climate change.”
The science of climate and its effect on health is indisputable, the president said. More severe wildfires that send more particulates into the air and longer-lasting allergy seasons will lead to higher rates of asthma. Higher temperatures could also mean that heatstroke in cities will become a severe public health problem.
“So the idea here is that by having doctors, nurses, public health officials who've come together highlighting the consequences of warmer temperatures, not only can communities start thinking about adapting and planning around those issues but individual families can also recognize that there is a link here, and collectively we can start doing something about it,” he said.
Besser’s interview with the president comes on the heels of a White House announcement earlier in the week setting out a series of initiatives to deal with the impact of climate change on the well-being of Americans. The actions include the upcoming White House Climate Change and Health Summit featuring the surgeon general and a challenge later in the year that invites tech experts to use government data to help resolve unanswered questions about climate change's impact on public health.
See the interview in its entirety later this today on "Good Morning America."
Lana Zak and Dan Childs of the ABC News Medical Unit contributed to this article.