Since their founding in 1998, the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research have been examining the effect of environmental exposures on children’s health. The Centers receive funding for their work from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Researchers have laid the scientific foundation for a whole new way of thinking about children and the environment.
“The ultimate goal of the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research program is to create a healthy and sustainable environment for every child in every community across the nation,” says Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., Director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. “And the National Children’s Study will not only help this generation live healthier lives, but will be a resource that scientists and parents can learn from for years to come. It will help us answer critical questions about child development. Our investments in research on children’s health are yielding critically needed information that will help drive prevention and treatment options for children.”
Examples of the Centers’ Findings
- People differ in their ability to metabolize pesticides based on their genetic makeup. This is important during pregnancy and early childhood. Some children do not appear to be able to metabolize some pesticides even up to age 7, putting them at greater risk of adverse health effects.
- Children living close to major roadways in Southern California have a higher risk of asthma. Similarly, local exposure to freeway traffic has adverse effects on children’s lung development.
- Prenatal exposure to vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke can lower a child’s score on IQ tests, and in one study were found to be related to cognitive delay at age 3.
- Mothers who take prenatal vitamins in the first three months before pregnancy or the first month of pregnancy are less likely to have a child with autism.
Emerging Areas of Research
- What is the role of environmental factors in the epidemic of obesity among our nation’s children?
- How are widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system affecting children, particularly during vulnerable windows of development? These chemicals, sometimes called endocrine disruptors, include the plastic component BPA.
- How do genetically transmitted changes to DNA from diet, aging, stress, or environmental exposures affect our children—or our grandchildren?
- How do bacteria in infants’ gastrointestinal tract affect children’s later health and behavior? What is the role of these germs in lifelong health or disease, and how does it interact with environmental exposures, including diet, antibiotic use, and chemicals?