KateRobbToday’s guest blogger is Kate Robb, APHA's senior program manager for Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health Policy.

Children are our future leaders. They deserve the opportunity to live, learn and play in an environment that fosters safe and healthy living. Today is Children’s Environmental Health Day⁠ —⁠ a chance to recognize how the environment impacts our children’s health and how we can create and sustain safe and healthy environments for our most vulnerable population. 

Children’s behavior and development increases their risk to environmental exposures. Additionally, children of color and from low-income families are disproportionately exposed to harmful toxicants, putting them at increased risk for poor health. 

Historic and current-day policies and practices, such as structural racism, have led to and continue health inequities. Due to residential segregation, Black families are more likely to live by high-speed, high-traffic roads, have insufficient pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and experience poor housing quality and conditions.

Poor air quality from traffic, pollution, cigarette smoke, mold and other sources can reduce lung growth, make asthma symptoms worse and act as a trigger for asthma attacks. Though an estimated 6 million children have asthma in the U.S., 14.2% of Black children have asthma, compared to 6.8% of white children. We also see these disparities among American Indian and Alaska Native and Latino children.  

Because air quality is further reduced by the effects of climate change, this year’s Children’s Environmental Health Day focuses on children’s environmental health and climate change. 

Children are incredibly sensitive to immediate and long-term impacts of climate change. For example, heat-related death for infants under the age of 1 are four times as high as for people ages 1- 44. 

An increasing amount of research demonstrates the mental health effects of climate on children, too. Natural disasters can result in detrimental mental health impacts, such as PTSD, trauma and chronic stress. Climate change is now and will continue to deteriorate communities and force migration, increasing feelings of helplessness and depression and a loss of identity. 

APHA has been a strong advocate of protecting our children’s health. In 2019, we released “Protecting the Health of Children: A National Snapshot of Environmental Health Services.” The report explores the availability and accessibility of children's environmental health information and services offered by health and environmental health departments across the country.

APHA recognizes that children are our future leaders and that they and their families must be involved in discussions and action around protecting our environment. For the report, we held community forums to gauge families’ understanding of and experience with state and local children’s environmental health services. 

That’s also why the Center for Climate, Health and Equity launched its new monthly book club for early climate optimists this year. Called ECO Bookworms, the online club for early readers and their caregivers features books that introduce difficult issues in a way that inspires discussion, hope and action on climate change and the environment. Children's Environmental Health Day Live

We invite you to read our book picks with your children. And join us for a virtual reading of author Andrea Beaty’s book, “Sofia Valdez, Future Prez!” by Surili Patel, APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity director, and myself at CEH Day Live.

This Livestream virtual event, hosted by the Children’s Environmental Health Network, takes place today from 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. EDT. Check out the full schedule and join the conversation on children's health and climate change at the CEH Day Twitter Chat from 12-1 p.m. EDT.

APHA believes that, through coordinated, comprehensive and intentional efforts, we can reduce or eliminate environmental risks. We are proud to be a Children’s Environmental Health Day partner to raise awareness and ignite action to create an equitable system for our children and for generations to come.