Children are exposed to a wide range of environmental threats that can affect their health and development early in life, throughout their youth and into adulthood. Writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Environmental Health scientists from the World Health Organization and Boston University suggest that it is time for both industrialized and developing countries to assess the environmental burden of childhood diseases with the aim of improving children's environments.
Maria Neira, Fiona Gore, Marie-Nol Brun, and Jenny Pronczuk de Garbino of the Department of Public Health and Environment, at the World Health Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland, working with Tom Hudson of Boston University, highlight a recent WHO report that estimated that almost one in four illnesses has an environmental cause. Such high levels of disease kill more than ten million children each year and are, the team says, unacceptable.
They point out that environmental hazards are multiplying and becoming more visible because of environmental change, rapid population growth, overcrowding, and the speedy industrialization uncontrolled pollution of many regions. Those environmental factors that have the greatest disease burden lead to diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections and malaria, as well as malnutrition, poisonings, and perinatal conditions.
Work must now be done, they stress, to distinguish the main environmental threats affecting children's health so that nations can identify the various factors and address them through remediation and education through better-informed policy-making decisions. Factors such as polluted indoor and outdoor air, contaminated water and lack of adequate sanitation, chemical and other toxic hazards, disease vectors, ultraviolet radiation and degraded ecosystems are all important environmental risk factors affecting children around the world.
It is crucial to recognize that children
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