Will boys’ mental health fare worse under a hotter climate in Australia?
A hotter climate is increasingly found to have negative effects on human health, yet the possible impact on children’s mental health is less understood. Our study explored this potential relationship using a national survey of children aged 6–11 across Australia, during the period 2008–2014 (n = 14,096). It was hypothesised that the negative effects of hotter weather on children’s mental health can occur both directly (e.g. through heat impacts influencing hyperactivity and restlessness) and indirectly (e.g. through reduced participation in organised physical activities). Mediation analysis controlled for a range of other locational, gender, socio-economic and demographic influences. Results indicate that an increase in annual average daily maximum temperature worsened childhood mental health due to a direct and indirect effect through reduced participation in organised physical activities, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total score, but the result is only significant for boys (albeit the magnitude of the effect was small). More specifically, temperature differences are driven through the SDQ mental health sub-scales of hyperactivity and peer problems. Gender disparities are also observed in terms of other environmental or locational influences having a significant impact on boys’ mental health, with no significant impact found for girls. Girls’ mental health is more likely influenced by family and individual socio-economic characteristics. There is also evidence of an increased impact of higher temperature on children’s mental health in poorer households, suggesting the need for more targeted children’s mental health policies.
KeywordsMental health Climate change Temperature Physical activity Mediation analysis Structural equation modelling
The authors are very grateful to comments received from Elizabeth Fussell, Phil Weinstein and three anonymous reviewers, whose ideas and feedback much improved this manuscript. Funding for this project was provided by a University of Adelaide Interdisciplinary Research Funding Scheme and Australian Research Council FT140100773. This article uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). LSAC is conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the DSS, the AIFS or the ABS.
This work was partly funded by Australian Research Council (FT140100773). The usual disclaimer applies.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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