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Environment key to preventing childhood disabilities
Date:5/1/2012

The United States government would get a better bang for its health-care buck in managing the country's most prevalent childhood disabilities if it invested more in eliminating socio-environmental risk factors than in developing medicines.

That's the key conclusion of Prevention of Disability in Children: Elevating the Role of Environment, a new paper co-authored by a Simon Fraser University researcher. The paper is in the May issue of the Future of the Children journal, which is produced by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

"Our conclusions may sound obvious or benign, but they may also be viewed as medical heresy," says Bruce Lanphear, the study's SFU co-author. The health scientist was also involved in studies showing that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.

"Most of us are convinced that we will solve our health care problems by investing in genetic research, stem cell research and drugs. But, with the exception of vaccines and antibiotics, the best that can be achieved by clinical intervention is enhanced treatment or early detection. It will not prevent disease."

Citing an American economic analysis of environmental hazards, the authors note that the cost of disease from exposure to pollutants linked with asthma, cancer and neurobehavioral disorders in a single year is $76 billion.

Another study "estimated a total potential net savings from the elimination of lead hazards, of $118 billion to $269 billion."

Referencing numerous studies, the authors track how declining infections and rising prenatal and childhood exposure to environmental toxins is "shifting the burden of illness among children and adults from infectious to chronic diseases."

Even so-called safe levels of toxins are now linked to chronic diseases.

As examples of rising incidents of childhood disabilities resu
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Contact: Carol Thorbes
cthorbes@sfu.ca
778-782-3035
Simon Fraser University
Source:Eurekalert

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