Children's health and the environment: a new agenda for prevention research

Environ Health Perspect. 1998 Jun;106 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):787-94. doi: 10.1289/ehp.98106787.


Patterns of illness in American children have changed dramatically in this century. The ancient infectious diseases have largely been controlled. The major diseases confronting children now are chronic and disabling conditions termed the "new pediatric morbidity"--asthma mortality has doubled; leukemia and brain cancer have increased in incidence; neurodevelopmental dysfunction is widespread; hypospadias incidence has doubled. Chemical toxicants in the environment as well as poverty, racism, and inequitable access to medical care are factors known and suspected to contribute to causation of these pediatric diseases. Children are at risk of exposure to over 15,000 high-production-volume synthetic chemicals, nearly all of them developed in the past 50 years. These chemicals are used widely in consumer products and are dispersed in the environment. More than half are untested for toxicity. Children appear uniquely vulnerable to chemical toxicants because of their disproportionately heavy exposures and their inherent biological susceptibility. To prevent disease of environmental origin in America's children, the Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) calls for a comprehensive, national, child-centered agenda. This agenda must recognize children's vulnerabilities to environmental toxicants. It must encompass a) a new prevention-oriented research focus; b) a new child-centered paradigm for health risk assessment and policy formulation; and c) a campaign to educate the public, health professionals, and policy makers that environmental disease is caused by preventable exposures and is therefore avoidable. To anchor the agenda, CEHN calls for long-term, stable investment and for creation of a national network of pediatric environmental health research and prevention centers.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Welfare* / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Health / standards*
  • Health Policy
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Health Transition
  • Humans
  • Primary Prevention / methods
  • Research / trends
  • United States