Research program benefits kid’s health; funding in jeopardy

The Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt praising the innovative science carried out by the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers across the country and supporting continued funding for their vital work which contributes to reducing health risks and improving the quality of life for children.

A unique federal partnership between US EPA and NIEHS invested more than $300 million in grants to Children’s Centers since 1998. The return on this investment has been enormous; considering just one impact that science from Children’s Centers informed, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, yielded estimated net health benefits up to $2.8 billion in 2014.  This number reflects the real benefits that accrue to every day families, such as seen in findings from the University of Southern California that better air quality is associated with improved lung function and bronchitis symptoms in kids.

As summarized in a new report, research at these Children’s Centers identified the critical role that toxic environmental exposures play in asthma, obesity, ADHD, cancer, autism and other childhood illnesses. This research has led to new detection, treatment and prevention strategies for such diseases, often with a focus on vulnerable and underserved communities. It is essential to fund the Children’s Centers program so we can continue to learn about environmental hazards that harm children and then take steps to prevent them.

Children’s Centers have led to an improved understanding of the environmental impacts on child health and development.

National Academies of Sciences

For example, the Emory University Children’s Center researches disparities in birth outcomes for African American women in Atlanta, investigating the effects of chemical exposures, stress and the microbiome. With its community advisory board, the Center produced a short documentary film focusing on environmental health concerns that are relevant, accessible and culturally appropriate for expectant African American mothers.

Research from a Duke University Children’s Center contributed to EPA’s science assessment of lead, which was the basis for establishing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for this toxic metal. Such policies are a vital step in halting the detrimental effects of low-level lead exposure on children’s health.

Pioneering work from our UCSF Children’s Center to embed environmental health in medical education was recently featured in the New York Times. Our Center also led efforts to educate and engage women’s health professionals—the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have all called for action in clinical care and health policies to prevent harmful environmental exposures. These are important steps towards filling what Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who uncovered lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, sees as one of the largest deficits in medicine today– the omission of environmental factors when doctors talk to patients about their health.

The Children’s Centers program is exceptional because their research uses an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach and most importantly, has an intentional focus on translation of research findings into applied intervention and prevention methods at the family, community and policy levels. Funding this program is a proven and wise investment in a healthier future for our children.

AMC picAnnemarie Charlesworth, MA co-wrote this post. She is the Director of the Environmental Health Initiative and Director of the Clinical Outreach and Translation team at PRHE.