Measuring Environmental Factors that Influence Children’s Health

Children’s environmental health is an emerging area of research. While available data do not yet address all aspects of environmental health, kidsdata.org just launched five key measures with local data to draw attention to environmental influences on children’s health and to encourage exploration of these issues.

What are environmental influences on kids’ health? Examples include air pollution from traffic, lead in old paints and plastic, pesticides, and chemical contaminants in tap water. These environmental pollutants can put children at risk of developing serious illnesses, such as respiratory disease (e.g., asthma), cognitive defects, and cancer1,2.

Here’s more about the new measures on kidsdata.org and why they matter:

Air Quality
Long-term exposure to high levels of ozone (the primary constituent of smog), as well as high concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air (largely from motor vehicle exhaust), are associated with a variety of breathing and heart problems3,4. Children living within 75 meters of a major road are at significantly higher risk for developing asthma and have a greater number of asthma-related emergency room visits than children who live fartherfrom traffic5See related data >>

Lead Poisoning
Lead, found mostly in old/chipping paint and contaminated soil, can cause low IQ scores, behavioral problems, seizures, and coma at different levels of exposure6. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic substances such as lead, as their systems are more fragile and their skin is more permeable. Young children also come into greater contact with toxins by playing or crawling on the ground, and through hand-mouth contact7. See related data >>

Water Quality
Levels of contamination that exceed the maximum allowed for drinking water — and documented failure to monitor drinking water contamination — indicate a higher risk of childhood exposure to toxic levels of bacteria, metals, and chemical residue. See related data >>

Sex Ratio at Birth
Environmental factors, such as exposure to endocrine disruptors (synthetic chemicals that mimic or block hormones) and second-hand smoke, may influence the sex ratio at birth by affecting human sex hormones and their regulation. The expected ratio of males to females born is 1.05 males to every 1 female (1.05:1). Concern mounts when there are fewer males than females born, i.e., less than 1 male to every 1 female8. See the data >>

Indicators within all of these topics will be updated and expanded as new data emerge. We welcome your feedback and insights on these new important measures of child well being.

Also see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section for websites and reports with more information related to environmental health.


(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2009). National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/

(2) California Department of Public Health (CDPH). (2009). Prematurity & Growth Retardation.
http://www.ehib.org/page.jsp?page_key=69

(3) California Department of Public Health. (2009). Air Contaminants: Particulate Matter.
http://www.ehib.org/page.jsp?page_key=90#pm_health

(4) United States Environmental Protection Agency.(2011). Ground-level Ozone. http://www.epa.gov/glo/

(5) McConnell, et al. (2006). “Traffic, Susceptibility, and Childhood Asthma.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(5), 766–772. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1459934/

(6) Godwin, H. (2009). “Southern California Environmental Report Card: Lead Exposure and Poisoning in Children.” UCLA Institute of the Environment.
http://www.environment.ucla.edu/reportcard/article.asp?parentid=3772

(7) United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2007). A Decade of Children’s Environmental Health Research: Highlights from EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program. http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/research_results_synthesis/

(8) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Sex Ratio and the Environment.
http://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showRbSrEnv.action

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Posted by Andy Krackov

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