Human development beginning with the fetus and extending through adolescence plays a central role in lifetime health status. During this time, children may face a daunting array of challenges that severely compromise their health and longevity. These include prenatal exposure to toxic contaminants, inadequate nutrition, and adverse conditions in the home and surrounding environment that predispose children to ill-health (1). A growing body of scientific research supports the involvement of environmental factors in childhood medical problems such as birth defects, asthma, learning and behavioral deficits, some cancers, and obesity (2). Furthermore, it is increasingly evident that some adult disease or susceptibility to disease has its origin in the environmental life history of children. There is strong evidence, for example, that low birth weight children are prone to numerous diseases as adults (3). Moreover, exposure to neurotoxicants during development may compromise the brain such that it becomes more prone to neurodegenerative diseases associated with adulthood and aging (4).
Of particular concern are health disparities that children suffer in families with lower socio-economic status. For example, exposure to components of tobacco smoke, addictive drugs, etc (resulting in low birth weight, stunted development); infant mortality; asthma, exposure to lead (depressed learning and other neurological outcomes), etc. are all substantially higher in children borne into lower socio-economic households (5-8). In this context, Milwaukee mirrors the health problems and disparities that children face in urban centers across the country. Our focus on children’s environmental health offers opportunities to understand and address adverse health determinants that affect early stages of life that exert life-long impacts and potentially play key roles in modulating the appearance of adult health as well.
1. Landrigan, P.J., Kimmel, C.A., Correa, A., and Eskenazi, B. (2004) Children's Health and the Environment: Public Health Issues and Challenges for Risk Assessment. Environ. Health Perspect. 112: 257‑65.
2. Goldman, L., Falk, H., Landrigan, P.J., Balk, S.J., Reigart, J.R., and Etzel, R.A. (2004) Environmental Pediatrics and Its Impact on government Health Policy. Pediatrics 113(4 Suppl):1146‑57.
3. Holness, M.J. and Sugden, M.C. (2006) Epigenetic Regulation of Metabolism in Children Born Small for Gestational Age. Curr. Opin. Clin. Nutr. Metab. Care. 9: 482‑8.
4. Barlow, B.K., Richfield, E.K., Cory‑Slechta, D.A., Thiruchelvam, M. (2004) A Fetal Risk Factor for Parkinson's Disease. Dev. Neurosci. 26: 11‑23.
5. Gold, D.R. and Wright, R. (2005) Population Disparities in Asthma. Ann. Rev. Public Health. 26: 89‑113.
6. Spencer, N. (2005) Maternal Education, Lone Parenthood, Material Hardship, Maternal Smoking, and Longstanding Respiratory Problems in Childhood: Testing a Hierarchical Conceptual Framework.J. Epidemiol. Community Health. 59: 842‑6.
7. Lu, M.C. and Halfon, N. (2003) Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Birth Outcomes: a Life‑course Perspective. Maternal Child Health J. 7: 13‑30.
8. Lidsky, T.I, and Schneider, J.S. (2003) Lead neurotoxicity in Children: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Correlates. Brain 126: 5‑19.