By Lawrence Rosen, MD
In 2007, Deirdre Imus and I published a landmark paper chronicling the disproportionate impact of environmental health concerns on children, making a strong case for urgent need to address pediatric environmental injustice. What has transpired in the decade since is heartbreaking. We have witnessed not only a lack of progress but in fact a worsening of nearly every measurable children’s health metric: rising rates of pediatric cancers, asthma, food allergies, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, autism, ADHD and a plethora of mental health disorders. Remarkably, there is an increasing gap between the current state of children’s health and where we ought to be, and one that is particularly affecting families living in poverty.
To add fuel to the fire, in addition to the ongoing concerns about long standing environmental health dangers like lead and air pollution, several new threats have emerged: climate change, toxic stress, and electromagnetic radiation (EMR). In a newly published article in Explore, we detail the roles these dangers are playing in widening the environmental health gap our children face. Climate change, for example, disproportionately affects children’s health, implicated in more than 150,000 deaths worldwide. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement on climate changes notes that failure to take prompt and substantive action is tantamount to an “act of injustice to all children.” The AAP has also been outspoken regarding the severe and permanent adverse impacts of toxic stress on children’s physical and emotional health. The toxic stress response is defined as “the strong, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system in the absence of protective adult support.” There is growing evidence that toxic stress early in life can also lead to persistent socioeconomic inequalities and widening health disparities. Finally, the World Health Organization acknowledges EMR as “one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences” and notes that levels will only continue to increase as technology advances. Astonishingly, one study found that 75 percent of four-year olds had their own mobile electronic device, and nearly all used mobile devices on a daily basis. Some dose of and length of exposure to EMR, unknown for each child, may ultimately cause cellular changes leading to cancer or neurological disease.
We recommending reading our complete Explore article to understand the full implications of these emerging threats and to discover what we believe are important strategies to reverse the worsening health trends affecting our children. There are both moral and economic arguments to be made that we are in urgent need of substantive investment in public health measures to address the pediatric health gap. Per the AAP Policy, Effect of Child and Family Poverty on Child Health in the United States, “Millions of children who are poor are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poverty because of the environment in which they live.” Poor childhood physical and emotional health, coupled with educational failure, leads to poor adult health and decreased wage-earning potential, a downward spiral towards an ever-widening health and, ultimately, opportunity gap. We must act now.
Lawrence Rosen, MD is an integrative pediatrician and co-author of Treatment Alternatives for Children. He is the founder of the Whole Child Center, one of the country’s first green and integrative pediatric practices, and he serves as Medical Advisor to The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center®. Dr. Rosen’s academic credentials include positions as past Chair of the AAP Section on Integrative Medicine, Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ, and author of numerous articles and book chapters on integrative pediatrics. He is also the pediatric columnist for Kiwi Magazine and blogs for the Huffington Post.