Importance of Children's Environmental Health

In many ways, children in America today are healthier than ever before. Thanks to safe drinking water, wholesome food, decent housing, vaccines, and antibiotics, our children lead longer, healthier lives than the children of any previous generation. They no longer face polio, smallpox, measles, yellow fever, cholera, and the other infectious diseases – the plagues of generations past.

  • Asthma, which has more than doubled in frequency since 1980, is now the leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and school absenteeism.
  • Birth defects, now the leading cause of death in early infancy.
  • Developmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism , dyslexia, and mental retardation. Currently, one of every six American children has a developmental disorder. Most affect the brain and nervous system. One in every 110 American children born today is diagnosed with autism.
  • Childhood leukemia and brain cancer have increased sharply in incidence. Between 1975 and 2004, primary brain cancer increased by nearly 40% and leukemia by over 60% among children 14 years and younger. Cancer is now the second leading cause of death in childhood in the US, exceeded only by deaths from injury.
  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past ten years, and type 2 diabetes, previously unknown among children, has become epidemic.

Scientific evidence is strong and continuing to build that hazardous exposures in the modern environment are important causes of these diseases. Indoor and outdoor air pollution are now established as causes of asthma. Childhood cancer is linked to solvents, pesticides, and radiation. The National Academy of Sciences has determined that environmental factors contribute to 28% of developmental disorders in children. The urban built environment and the modern food environment are important causes of obesity and diabetes. Toxic chemicals in the environment – lead, pesticides, toxic air pollutants, phthalates, and bisphenol A – are important causes of disease in children, and they are found in our homes, at our schools, in the air we breathe, and in the products we use every day.

Scientific research gives us the evidence we need to protect our children from environmental threats to health. Research and prevention to protect children are core missions of the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics. Health. United States, 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Atlanta (GA): CDC, 2010.

Landrigan PJ, Trasande L, Thorpe LE, Gwynn C, Lioy PJ, D'Alton ME, Lipkind HS, Swanson J, Wadhwa PD, Clark EB, Rauh VA, Perera FP, Susser E. The National Children's Study: A 21-Year Prospective Study of 100,000 American Children. Pediatrics 2006; 118(5): 2173-2186.