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Benevolenza, M. A., & DeRigne, L. A. (2019). The impact of climate change and natural disasters on vulnerable populations: A systematic review of literature.
Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment
Climate change is acknowledged as being a crucial determinant of public health. The United States is experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters as a result of climate change activity, influencing the ways federal, state, and local governments are addressing the growing issue. Individuals who are vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, namely the poor, the elderly/disabled, children, prisoners, and substance abusers have experienced heightened levels of mental, emotional, and bodily stress due to natural disaster exposure. Researchers from a variety of disciplines, public health, social science, and environmental studies, in particular, are examining how natural disasters are impacting mental and physical health functioning while noting the demographic factors leaving certain groups more susceptible to harm. A systematic literature review was conducted on the past 12 years of research that examined natural disaster-related experiences and psychological and physiological health outcomes on populations who are more vulnerable to adverse weather impacts. It was found that the mental and physical health of marginalized populations during and after a natural disaster were elevated and/or exacerbated by circumstances pertaining to the weather event and the lack of disaster-response actions. It was also found that fostering social capital is a way to combat stressors in disadvantaged communities. It is imperative that clinicians and policy makers confront the issue of climate change and natural disasters, developing relief efforts and preventative measures to secure the well-being of underserved groups who may not have many resources at their disposal.
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