July 9, 2022
by Dr. Plastic Picker
It happened. I had been asked to contribute a short article to Sketches, San Diego Audubon’s quarterly magazine https://www.sandiegoaudubon.org/news-events/sketches-magazine.html. It was a short piece, and I was writing another piece with one of our students for a popular science magazine in the Yucatan. But during that time, I wrote from my heart. I’m writing and publishing more now than I ever imagined possible. I’m mostly just documenting my evolving thoughts as a pediatrician awakened to the climate and health crisis – and how I’m trying to help stop this existential crisis. Meeting so many interesting people with different ideas and training backgrounds, and then it percolates in my brain with my experiences as a litter picker – and something happens. And this article happened. Thank you San Diego Audubon. This article is a spring board to further bend the arc of history toward a livable planet for birds and kids.
ReWild: What’s Good for Birds Is Good for Kids
Wetland conservationists and pediatricians have a lot in common. The conservationists work to preserve habitat for endangered birds. Pediatricians advocate for a built environment that promotes children’s health. We also have in common the northeast corner of Mission Bay, which is critical to the health and well-being of birds and children. The ReWild wetlands site is a literal nursery for juvenile fish and bird species and is the figurative nursery we seek to make available for children to improve their health. This is how the collaboration formed between San Diego Audubon and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) San Diego.
I work through the AAP California Committee on Environmental Health, trying to help move legislation to protect the environment as it relates to children’s health—a pediatrician’s prime responsibility. Climate change is a pediatric public health crisis. The long-term health consequences of climate change have disproportionately affected children, with increasing cases of asthma and higher rates of premature
birth. Children are the most vulnerable victims to climate-related natural disasters. Air pollution, heat waves, and water-born pollution affect little bodies more because their organs are still developing.
A child’s greater body-to-surface area of epithelium to total body surface area exposes them to more environmental toxins. Children will suffer the most due to climate change, especially those who live in
environmental justice areas.
Our communities need to commit to ReWild Mission Bay. The local climate change math does not add up unless we maximize wetland restoration. But when I think of the ReWild work, I also think of the possibilities of how this area can function to improve the physical and mental health of children. AAP San Diego has officially joined the ReWild Mission Bay Coalition to bring healthcare voices to wetland
conservation. Pediatricians as a group have spent many hours with wetland conservationists at this site. Working together, pediatricians and wetland conservationists are imagining how we can collaborate
and make this wetland part of community healing.
It is well established that reflective time in nature improves mental health. There is now a national call to document adverse childhood events (ACES). Children who have suffered more ACES have higher levels of toxic stress. This has been associated with adverse health outcomes like asthma, heart disease, and poor mental health. Programs that combine nature bathing, mindfulness, and mentoring from caring adults like healthcare professionals and scientists would be a nature-based solution to ACES. Rather than building more concrete clinics, would it be possible to practice medicine on the wetlands? Meandering the wetlands with children, together listening to the sounds of the marsh, noting the anatomical details of our bird friends, and then checking our own vital signs? I think we will all find what studies have shown—our subjective well-being and stress levels are improved. I imagine affordable and accessible primitive camping opportunities for local San Diego children, as camping is shown to be one of the most effective ways to address the sleep problems facing our increasingly digitized young people. AAP San Diego invites
you to come and meet us on the wetlands and let your imagination wander. Join us in this important work. For me, the northeast corner of Mission Bay has been a literal nursery—where I’ve brought
pediatric patients and my own teenage children to wander and heal. And this is where I realized after meeting wetland conservationists, that what’s good for birds is good for kids. San Diego Audubon and
AAP are aligned and working together for the Wildest option for the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
Vi Thuy Nguyen, M.D., is Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser San Diego. She is a Fellow of Environmental Health as part of the American Academy of Pediatrics and serves as Co-Chair of San Diego’s AAP Climate Change and Health Committee