NEW DELHI : With a rise in temperature due to climate change, infants are the most vulnerable when it comes to malnutrition, infectious diseases and soaring food prices, a study published in the Lancet journal on Thursday said.

Worsening air quality due to burning of fossil fuels contributes to reduced lung function in growing children and increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, the report titled Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change said.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking progress across 41 key indicators. The project is collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank, University College London, and Tsinghua University.

“With its huge population and high rates of healthcare inequality, poverty, and malnutrition, few countries are likely to suffer from the health effects of climate change as much as India. Diarrhoeal infections, a major cause of child mortality, will spread into new areas, whilst deadly heat waves, similar to one in 2015 that killed thousands of people in India, could soon become the norm," said Poornima Prabhakaran from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) co-author of the study.

“Over the past two decades, the government of India has launched many initiatives and programmes to address a variety of diseases and risk factors. But this report shows that the public health gains achieved over the past 50 years could soon be reversed by the changing climate," she said.

With malnutrition already responsible for two-thirds of under-five deaths, children will be among the most to suffer from the rise in infectious diseases, with climatic suitability for the Vibrio bacteria that causes cholera rising 3% a year in India since the early 1980s.

Dengue is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world cause by climate change. Nine of the 10 most hospitable years for dengue transmission have occurred since 2000. Around half of the world’s population are now at risk, the study said.

Stating that if the world follows a business-as-usual pathway, with high carbon emissions and climate change continuing at the current rate, the study warned a child born today will face an over 4˚C warmer world by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants," said Nick Watts, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown.

“The damage done in early childhood is persistent and pervasive, with health consequences lasting for a lifetime. Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in wellbeing and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation," said Watts.