Population and Environment

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 158–181 | Cite as

Will boys’ mental health fare worse under a hotter climate in Australia?

  • Ying XuEmail author
  • Sarah Ann Wheeler
  • Alec Zuo
Original Paper


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.


Mental 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.


  1. Aber, J., Jones, S., & Cohen, J. (2000). The impact of poverty on the mental health and development of very young children. In C. H. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (pp. 113–128). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alcock, I., White, M., Wheeler, B., Fleming, L., & Depledge, M. (2014). Longitudinal effects on mental health of moving to greener and less green urban areas. Environmental Science and Technology, 48, 1247–1255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amoly, E., Dadvand, P., Forns, J., López-Vicente, M., Basagaña, X., Julvez, J., et al. (2014). Green and blue spaces and behavioural development in Barcelona schoolchildren: The BREATHE project. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122, 1351–1358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aneshensel, C., & Sucoff, C. (1996). The neighborhood context of adolescent mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 293–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Angold, A., & Costello, E. (1995). Developmental epidemiology. Epidemiologic Reviews, 17(1), 74–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Australian Institute of Family Studies (2015). The longitudinal study of Australian children: an Australian government initiative (LSAC) data user guide. November,
  7. Balbus, J., & Malina, C. (2009). Identifying vulnerable subpopulations for climate change health effects in the United States. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51, 33–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baranowski, T., Thompson, W., DuRant, R., Baranoswki, J., & Puhl, J. (1993). Observations on physical activity in physical locations: age, gender, ethnicity and month effects. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64, 127–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baron, R., & Kenny, D. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beiser, M., Hou, F., Hyman, I., & Tousignant, M. (2002). Poverty, family process, and the mental health of immigrant children in Canada. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 220–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Berman, M., Kross, E., Krpan, K., Askren, M., Burson, A., Deldin, P., et al. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 300–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Berry, H., Bowen, K., & Kjellstrom, T. (2010). Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. International Journal of Public Health, 55, 123–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bi, P., Williams, S., Loughnan, M., Lloyd, G., Hansen, A., Kjellstrom, T., et al. (2011). The effects of extreme heat on human mortality and morbidity in Australia: implications for public health. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, 23, 27–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, D., Barton, J., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Viewing nature scenes positively affects recovery of autonomic function following acute-mental stress. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 5562–5569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carleton, T. (2017). Crop-damaging temperatures increase suicide rates in India. PNAS, 114(33), 8746–8751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chapman, D., Whitfield, C., Felitti, V., Dube, S., Edwards, V., & Anda, R. (2004). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of depressive disorders in adulthood. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82, 217–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. CSIRO and BOM (2015). Commonwealth scientific and industrial research organisation and bureau of meteorology. Climate change in Australia: Projections for Australia’s NRM regions. Technical report, CSIRO and BOM.Google Scholar
  18. Cutter, S. (1995). The forgotten casualties: Women, children, and environmental change. Global Environmental Change, 5, 181–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cutter, S. (2017). The forgotten casualties redux: Women, children, and disaster risk. Global Environmental Change, 42, 117–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dinh, H., Cooklin, A., Leach, L., Westrupp, E., Nicholson, J., & Strazdins, L. (2017). Parents' transitions into and out of work–family conflict and children’s mental health: Longitudinal influence via family functioning. Social Science & Medicine, 194, 42–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Due, P., Lynch, J., Holstein, B., & Modvig, J. (2003). Socioeconomic health inequalities among a nationally representative sample of Danish adolescents: The role of different types of social relations. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 57, 692–6983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Edwards, B., Gray, M., & Hunter, B. (2015). The impact of drought on mental health in rural and regional Australia. Social Indicators Research, 121, 177–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Flies, E., Skelly, C., Negi, S., Prabhakaran, P., Liu, Q., Liu, K., et al. (2017). Biodiverse green spaces: A prescription for global urban health. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15, 510–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Francis, J., Wood, L., Knuiman, M., & Giles-Corti, B. (2012). Quality or quantity? Exploring the relationship between public open space attributes and mental health in Perth, Western Australia. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1570–1577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frumkin, H., Bratman, G., Breslow, S., Cochran, B., Kahn, P., Lawler, J., et al. (2017). Nature contact and human health: a research agenda. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gloth 3rd, F., Alam, W., & Hollis, B. (1999). Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 3, 5–7.Google Scholar
  27. Goodman, R. (1997). The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 581–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Green, H., McGinnity, A., Meltzer, H., Ford, T., & Goodman, R. (2005). Mental health of children and young people. London: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  29. Hansen, A., Bi, P., Nitschke, M., Ryan, P., Pisaniello, D., & Tucker, G. (2008). The effect of heat waves on mental health in a temperate Australian city. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116, 1369–1375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hartig, T., Mitchell, R., de Vries, S., & Frumkin, H. (2014). Nature and health. Annual Review of Public Health, 35, 207–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Herzele, A., & Vries, S. (2012). Linking green space to health: A comparative study of two urban neighbourhoods in Ghent, Belgium. Population and Environment, 34, 171–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hicks, R., & Tingley, D. (2011). Causal mediation analysis. Stata Journal, 114, 605–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hume, C., Salmon, J., & Ball, K. (2005). Children's perceptions of their home and neighborhood environments, and their association with objectively measured physical activity: A qualitative and quantitative study. Health Education Research, 20, 113.Google Scholar
  34. Imai, K., Keele, L., & Tingley, D. (2010). A general approach to causal mediation analysis. Psychological Methods, 15, 309–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jorm, A. F., Bourchier, S. J., Cvetkovski, S., & Stewart, G. (2012). Mental health of indigenous Australians: A review of findings from community surveys. Med J Aust, 196, 118–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Juzeniene, A., & Moan, J. (2012). Beneficial effects of UV radiation other than via vitamin D production. Dermatoendocrinol, 4, 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Katsouyanni, K., Trichopoulos, D., Zavitsanos, X., & Touloumi, G. (1988). The 1987 Athens heatwave. The Lancet, 2, 573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kelly, P., & Adger, W. (2000). Theory and practice in assessing vulnerability to climate change and facilitating adaptation. Climatic Change, 47, 325–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kieling, C., Baker-Henningham, H., Belfer, M., Conti, G., Ertem, I., Omigbodun, O., et al. (2011). Child and adolescent mental health worldwide: Evidence for action. The Lancet, 378, 1515–1525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kilbourne, E. (1997). Heat waves and hot environments. In E.K. Noji (Ed.), The public health consequences of disasters, (pp. 245–269). Oxford Uni. Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kovess-Masféty, V., Alonso, J., de Graaf, R., & Demyttenaere, K. (2005). European approach to rural-urban differences in mental health: The ESEMeD 2000 comparative study. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 926–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lee, Y., Chatterton, M., Magnus, A., Mohebbi, M., Le, L., & Mihalopoulos, C. (2017). Cost of high prevalence mental disorders: Findings from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 51, 1198–1211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Leve, L., Kim, H., & Pears, K. (2005). Childhood temperament and family environment as predictors of internalizing and externalizing trajectories from age 5 to age 17. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 3, 505–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lopez, A. (2006). Global burden of disease and risk factors. Oxford University Press, New York, NY and Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  45. Maas, J., Verheij, R., Groenewegen, P., de Vries, S., & Spreeuwenberg, P. (2006). Green space, urbanity, and health: How strong is the relation? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60, 587–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. MacKerron, G., & Mourato, S. (2013). Happiness is greater in natural environments. Global Environmental Change, 23, 992–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McLeod, J., & Shanahan, M. (1993). Poverty, parenting, and children’s mental health. American Sociological Review, 58(3), 351–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McMichael, A., Woodruff, R., & Hales, S. (2006). Climate change and human health: Present and future risks. The Lancet, 367(9513), 859–869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McNutt, M. (2013). Climate change impacts. Science, 341(6145), 435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nauges, C., & Wheeler, S. (2017). The complex relationship between households’ climate change concerns and their water and energy mitigation behaviour. Ecological Economics, 141, 87–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nitschke, M., Tucker, G., Hansen, A., Williams, S., Zhang, Y., & Bi, P. (2011). Impact of two recent extreme heat episodes on morbidity and mortality in Adelaide, South Australia: A case-series analysis. Environmental Health, 10, 42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Norton, A., & Monahan, K. (2015). LSAC technical paper no. 15: wave 6 weighting and non-response. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Social Services.Google Scholar
  53. Nutsford, D., Pearson, A., & Kingham, S. (2013). An ecological study investigating the association between access to urban green space and mental health. Public Health, 127, 1005–1011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Padhy, S., Sarkar, S., Panigrahi, M., & Paul, S. (2015). Mental health effects of climate change. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 19, 3–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Paluska, S., & Schwenk, T. (2000). Physical activity and mental health. Sports Medicine, 29, 167–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Palutikof, J. (2010). The view from the front line: Adapting Australia to climate change. Global Environmental Change, 20, 218–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Patz, J., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T., & Foley, J. (2005). Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature, 438, 310–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Paykel, E., Abbott, R., Jenkins, R., Brugha, T., & Meltzer, H. (2000). Urban–rural mental health differences in Great Britain: Findings from the National Morbidity Survey. Psychological Medicine, 30, 269–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Piguet, E., Kaenzig, R., & Guélat, J. (2018). The uneven geography of research on “environmental migration”. Population and Environment, 39, 357–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pratt, M., Macera, C., & Blanton, C. (1999). Levels of physical activity and inactivity in children and adults in the United States: Current evidence and research issues. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31, 526–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reiss, F. (2013). Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine, 90, 24–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Riddoch, C., Bo Andersen, L., Wedderkopp, N., Harro, M., Klasson-Heggebø, L., Sardinha, L., et al. (2004). Physical activity levels and patterns of 9- and 15-yr-old European children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 86–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rosenfield, S., & Mouzon, D. (2013). Gender and mental health. In C. S. Aneshensel, J. C. Phelan, & A. Bierman (Eds.), Handbook of the sociology of mental health (pp. 277–296). Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Schore, A. (2017). 67. All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38, 15–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Slovic, P. (2000). The perception of risk. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  66. Strazdins, L., Shipley, M., Clements, M., Obrien, L., & Broom, D. (2010). Job quality and inequality: Parents’ jobs and children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties. Social Science & Medicine, 70, 2052–2060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Strazdins, L. O’Brien, L., Lucas, N. & Rodgers, B. (2013). Combining work and family: Rewards or risks for children's mental health? Social Science & Medicine, 87, 99–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tandon, P., Zhou, C., & Christakis, D. (2012). Frequency of parent-supervised outdoor play of US preschool-aged children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 166, 707–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Taylor, A., Kuo, F., & Sullivan, W. (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22(1–2), 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Telford, R. M., Telford, R. D., Olive, L., Cochraine, T., & Davey, R. (2016). Why are girls less physically active than boys? Findings from the LOOK longitudinal study. PLoS One, 11, 15–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Terman, M., Terman, J. S., & Ross, D. (1998). A controlled trial of timed bright light and negative air ionization for treatment of winter depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55, 875–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Townsend, M., Mahoney, M., Jones, J.-A., Ball, K., Salmon, J., & Finch, C. (2003). Too hot to trot? Exploring potential links between climate change, physical activity and health. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 6, 260–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Twenge, J., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2002). Age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and birth cohort differences on the children’s depression inventory: a meta-analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 578–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wheeler, S., & Zuo, A. (2017). The impact of drought and water scarcity on irrigator farm exit intentions in the Murray–Darling basin. The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 61, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wheeler, S., Zuo, A., & Loch, A. (2018). Water torture: Unravelling the psychological distress of irrigators in Australia. Journal of Rural Studies, 62, 183–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. White, M., Alcock, I., Wheeler, B., & Depledge, M. (2013). Coastal proximity, health and well-being: Results from a longitudinal panel survey. Health & Place, 23, 97–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Williams, S., Nitschke, M., Weinstein, P., Pisaniello, D., Parton, K., & Bi, P. (2012). The impact of summer temperatures and heatwaves on mortality and morbidity in Perth, Australia 1994-2008. Environment International, 40, 33–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. World Health Organization (2002). Gender and mental health. Available: Accessed June 2002.
  79. Xue, Y., Leventhal, T., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Earls, F. (2005). Neighborhood residence and mental health problems of 5- to 11-year-olds. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 554–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Global Food and Resources, Faculty of ProfessionsUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations