The Impact of the Environment on American Children

A new edition of a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paints a picture of the way environmental factors influence the lives and health of children in the United States. America’s Children and the Environment, Third Edition contains statistics and trends related to everything from the average level of lead in children’s blood to the link between asthmas and air quality.

EPA officials say the latest data reveal some improvements. “It shows good progress on some issues, such as reducing children’s blood lead levels and exposure to tobacco smoke in the home, and points to the need for continued focus on other issues,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement. Those “other issues” include the increasing rates of both attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and preterm births. The agency says there is no conclusive information on the role environmental contaminants may play in either of these two areas, but adds that additional research is taking place.

The agency notes that the reasons children develop asthma are poorly understood. But the link between asthma and environmental conditions continues to be made. Exposure to air pollutants including particulate matter and ozone can trigger symptoms in those that already have the condition. The report found an increase in the percentage of children who have asthma from 8.7% in 2001 to 9.4% in 2010. It also found that minority populations are disproportionately affected by asthma. On a positive note, it was discovered that the severity of children’s asthma has been declining. The rate of emergency room visits due to asthma went down from 114 per 10,000 children in 1996 to 103 per 10,000 in 2008. Hospitalizations for asthma along with all other respiratory causes decreased from 90 per 10,000 to 56 per 10,000 over the same period.

The reason for the focus on children is their heightened vulnerability to environmental exposures. Their still developing bodies are more at risk for damage, and in proportion to their body size, children eat, drink and breathe more than adults. Lastly, their natural curiosity can end up leaving them exposed to more harmful chemicals and organisms. The health indicators and statistics used in this report serve as an important reference for future research into children’s health issues, says the agency.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2013 (online 2/7/12)