A healthy future requires healthy children. Poor health in childhood has lasting effects on people, communities and economies. While gains have been made in reducing childhood mortality and improving health, there is still much work to be done, particularly when it comes to the environment’s impact on children.
Even before they are born, in utero, children face risks from environmental hazards. Our Environmental Health team recently conducted a study that found that air pollution is significantly linked to stunting—when a child is too short for his or her age—which has significant consequences for their health and cognitive development. With 90% of the world experiencing harmful levels of air pollution, action on policies that reduce toxic emissions is a win for both health and the planet.
We also have ample and clear evidence of the harms of lead exposure, but many countries do not have laws to minimize exposures and lack the testing capacity to identify lead-poisoned children. Our Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program team, along with partners in Peru, recently released new clinical guidance to identify and treat lead poisoning in children in the absence of widespread testing. The partnership hopes to ultimately propose the methodology in other low-resource settings where many children suffer from or are at risk of lead poisoning.
The program has expanded to Indonesia, where Vital Strategies is partnering with UNICEF and Pure Earth to update the nation’s clinical guidance for lead exposure in children and conduct a comprehensive assessment of lead policies and stakeholders.
Children’s environmental health goes beyond air quality and protection from lead and other substances. Children’s food environments are also an important factor in their health: Food and beverage companies continue to target children to market foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat—putting them at greater risk of developing diseases that can last their whole lives. Commercial determinants of children’s health also include tobacco marketing, as that industry tries to hook young people. Our Policy, Advocacy and Communication team uses advocacy and communication strategies to support policies that help move these products further from children’s hands, including taxes on tobacco products and the introduction of front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy foods and beverages.
Children are our future—it is our responsibility to protect them. We must invest in addressing the environmental determinants of children’s health.
—José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies
What to Watch
The tobacco industry continues to target children to hook them on their products—putting them at greater risk of developing diseases. This campaign from Turkey shows how increasing taxes on tobacco products helps protect children and youth from tobacco.