By Fawn Pattison
We are excited to announce that NC Child will launch a new Children’s Environmental Health initiative in 2017 to lead the way for healthy, safe environments for all North Carolina’s children. From preventing exposure to toxic lead, to ensuring safe classrooms and playgrounds in public schools, NC Child has played an important role in decades of public health work related to children’s environments in North Carolina. Whether we look at goals such as improving birth outcomes, ensuring economic opportunity for families, or achieving high-quality education, the contributions of environmental factors are impossible to ignore.
Here are three key reasons that NC Child will take on an Environmental Health focus area:
- Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults
With respect to environmental hazards, children are not “little adults.” Rather they often are more vulnerable to harm from environmental exposures than adults. Toxic contaminants in food, water and air are delivered in higher quantities to small children because they are growing rapidly and pound for pound, they eat, drink and breathe more than adults do. Immature systems in the body – such as the rapidly-developing brain – are susceptible to long-term damage, even from low levels of exposure. Exploring the world is a child’s job – they constantly test boundaries with their feet, hands and taste buds because they have to. Our job as adults is to make that world a safe place for them to explore.
- Early life experiences shape outcomes for the rest of our lives
Because the most dramatic developmental stages happen very early in life, pregnant women, fetuses, infants and toddlers are at highest risk when it comes to environmental toxins. Related factors like poor nutrition and hazardous housing can exacerbate the problem. NC Child’s keystone program areas focus on factors that set children and families up for success with early intervention. The same approach is critical for environmental health.
- Prevention is the Best Health Care Strategy
Preventing exposure to environmental contaminants like toxic lead, mercury and phthalates can significantly reduce the risk of painful and expensive health outcomes later in life. Birth defects, preterm birth, childhood and adult cancers, asthma and neurodevelopmental disorders (to name a few) are strongly linked to environmental exposures. We can prevent harm, save money and improve health outcomes for high-risk populations with common-sense approaches that reduce or eliminate hazardous exposures.
So what’s the plan? NC Child will kick off its Environmental Health Initiative with an ambitious campaign to end childhood lead poisoning in North Carolina, thanks to support from the Duke Endowment. We’re also hiring a Children’s Environmental Health Program Coordinator to lead this work. Stay tuned as we continue to grow and develop this initiative in collaboration with partners around the state. Want to get involved? Let us know!