How can we teach the next generation about planetary health, and why does it matter?

A summary of planetary health and why it’s so important

Planetary health describes the relationship between the health of the earth and its population. This relationship is co-dependent, and involves a sustainable ecosystem maintained by humans acting as the stewards of the natural resources from which they benefit1. Planetary health is intrinsically connected and often compromised by socio-political and health concerns including gender equality, the wealth gap, and urbanisation, all of which are products of the centralised and elitist power structures of developed and high-income countries. These factors may be in direct competition with planetary health objectives2.


For years, adults have known of the risk of climate change and have made changes to alter climate change trajectory. However, the changes have not been significant enough, leaving the burden of climate change on the next generation3. In a cruel twist, those who are at greatest risk of harm due to climate change are the vulnerable populations, including children4, with the World Health Organisation anticipating an additional 131,000 child deaths by 2030 due to associated climate change. This will increase infectious disease, political instability, and food insecurity.5 Furthermore, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that, in order to minimise global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions must reach net zero by 20506.

The greatest threat for children today is no longer the war of previous generations. Instead, the greatest “health and existential threat” is climate change, prompting serious notice and action, such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund to publish the Children’s Climate Risk Index7. Distribution of natural resources, including clean air, water, and safe food supply distribution has a major influence on the health and safety of children, particularly considering the immoral injustices children in low-income neighbour hoods and countries face8.

Education and planetary health

Pressure is now being placed on schools and child healthcare professionals to advocate for systemic and political change to reduce the future climate burden on our children9. Educators must therefore equip and empower children and their parents for a future involving global environmental and climatic challenges to support our children in thriving despite adversity.

Incorporating planetary health education in the foundational school years allows for the development of creative and responsible learners with an appreciation and understanding of climate change. It establishes habits that promote positive mindsets around planetary health10. Research has demonstrated that children from early to senior school years who have received planetary health education were more resilient, more adaptive, and less vulnerable in the face of a natural disaster11.Furthermore, educating children on climate change has been shown to influence the behaviour of their parents at the same time12. Education programs should be shifted to include further education on environmental and population health requirements13.


When educating children on planetary health, it is important to encourage children to view everyday decisions with planetary health in mind. This encourages them to develop an appreciation for cause-and-effect relationships and links associated with human behaviour and planetary health14.Equipping children to use their voices for the advocacy of planetary health with a sense of urgency and an appreciation of policy development and change while communicating complex, interrelated issues impacting a variety of stakeholders, is essential15.


In addition to these skills, children should be educated on the societal biases present as a result of existing policies, as well as socio-economic dynamics that may impede change. These should equip students with the resilience required to respond to unplanned circumstances while concurrently navigating governance structures16. Thankfully, the children of today are global citizens, connected through technology which allows them to connect with like-minded people and instigate positive global initiatives17.


With universities picking up planetary health curricula, it is important that early year’s learning does the same to help shape the mindsets of the young and provide them with the practical skills to become conscious citizens who are responsible for planetary health18.

Political concerns, advocacy, and engagement around planetary health

To promote lasting behavioural change in the decision-makers of the future and for the benefit of planetary health, change must be carried across generations. Children and young adults of all backgrounds must be given a voice in policymaking and systems development to ensure reasonable, rather than tokenistic, representation to allow them the ability to engage with and facilitate change19.Adopting digital mediums to engage and promote participation and providing youth with training and education on the practical and technical aspects of planetary health is important. This includes but is not limited to community obesity management, air quality training, and mentorships for medical students20.


Long-term change to benefit planetary health and to provide today’s children with a future filled with opportunity, growth and health requires the recruitment of adults, professionals (including education and healthcare), and children themselves, to use their voices and skills. Children will need to advocate for what they know is best for the planet and their community and how best to be both a local and global citizen in a world confronted with climate change and it is up to the adults today to empower and equip them to face these challenges head-on. With a better understanding of planetary health, and how our decisions and education can improve the situation, we can work together to create a brighter, safer, healthier future for our children.

    1. Barna, S., Maric, F., Simons, J., Kumar, S., & Blankestijn, P. J. (2020). Education for the Anthropocene: Planetary health, sustainable health care, and the health workforce. Medical Teacher42(10), 1091–1096.
    2. Chesney, M. L., & Duderstadt, K. (2022). Planetary Health, Environmental Justice, and Child Health. In Journal of Pediatric Health Care (Vol. 36, Issue 1, pp. 1–2). Elsevier Inc.
    3. MacNeill, A. J., McGain, F., & Sherman, J. D. (2021). Planetary health care: a framework for sustainable health systems. In The Lancet Planetary Health (Vol. 5, Issue 2, pp. e66–e68). Elsevier B.V.
    4. McLean, M., Gibbs, T., & McKimm, J. (2020). Educating for planetary health and environmentally sustainable health care: Responding with urgency. Medical Teacher42(10), 1082–1084.
    5. Stone, S. B., Myers, S. S., & Golden, C. D. (2018). Cross-cutting principles for planetary health education. In The Lancet Planetary Health (Vol. 2, Issue 5, pp. e192–e193). Elsevier B.V.
    6. von Borries, R., Guinto, R., Thomson, D. J., Abia, W. A., & Lowe, R. (2020). Planting sustainable seeds in young minds: the need to teach planetary health to children. In The Lancet Planetary Health (Vol. 4, Issue 11, pp. e501–e502). Elsevier B.V.
    7. Williams, P. C. M., Marais, B., Isaacs, D., & Preisz, A. (2021). Ethical considerations regarding the effects of climate change and planetary health on children. In Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health (Vol. 57, Issue 11, pp. 1775–1780). John Wiley and Sons Inc.
    8. Zeinali, Z., Bulc, B., Lal, A., van Daalen, K. R., Campbell-Lendru, D., Ezzine, T., Fagan, L., Germann, S., Guinto, R., Lakhani, H., Neveux, M., Ngendahayo, C., Patil, P., Singh, S., Timilsina, S., Udeh, C., & Whitmee, S. (2020). A roadmap for intergenerational leadership in planetary health. In The Lancet Planetary Health (Vol. 4, Issue 8, pp. e306–e308). Elsevier B.V.
    • [1] Chesney & Duderstadt, 2022, p. 1
    • [2] Zeinali et a;., 2020, p. e306
    • [3] Chesney & Duderstadt, 2022, p. 1
    • [4] Williams et al., 2021, p. 1775
    • [5] Williams et al., 2021, p. 1775
    • [6] MacNeill et al., 2021, p. e66
    • [7] Chesney & Duderstadt, 2022, p. 1
    • [8] Chesney & Duderstadt, 2022, p. 1
    • [9] Williams et al., 2021, p. 1775
    • [10] von Borries et al., 2020, p. e501
    • [11] von Borries et al., 2020, p. e501
    • [12] von Borries et al., 2020, p. e501
    • [13] von Borries et al., 2020, p. e501
    • [14] Stone et al.,  2018, p. 192
    • [15] Stone et al.,  2018, p. 192
    • [16] Stone et al.,  2018, p. 193
    • [17] Stone et al.,  2018, p. 193
    • [18] von Borries et al., 2020, p. e501
    • [19] Zeinali et a;., 2020, p. e306
    • [20] Zeinali et al., 2020, p. e307

This article has been written for the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) by the documented original author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the ASLM or its Board.

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