In this guest post, Kristie Trousdale, MPH, deputy director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network and member of the Children’s Environmental Health Committee of APHA’s Environment Section, highlights the connection between children’s health and racial equity, as well as key APHA resources to inform a framework for progress.

It was heartening to see more conversations on Earth Day last week on the ties between the health of the planet and children’s health, as well as increased prominence of voices who have too often been left out of the discussions.

It was a good tie-in to APHA’s recently released fact sheet on children’s environmental health, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Children’s Environmental Health.”  If we truly want to make progress in protecting children’s environmental health, we must expand, learn from and act on racial equity conversations every day, not just on Earth Day. The Children's Environmental Health Committee believes that all children should have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy environments and attain their best health and well-being.

Early-life exposures — including prenatal exposures — to environmental hazards can have lasting effects on health and development, and children of color at every stage of their lives experience disproportionately higher exposures than their white peers. Residential segregation and current and historical racist policies are at the root of this disparity. Girl playing in park with others

Children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to live in substandard housing than children from predominantly white communities. They are also more likely to live in neighborhoods that are close to high-traffic roads and polluting facilities and to attend schools in poor condition with increased environmental hazards. 

As a result, children of color have higher levels of contaminants and metabolites in their bodies, as well as higher incidence of illness and disability, such as childhood cancer, obesity and asthma. 

Climate change compounds environmental hazards and worsens these disparities. Children of color and those from low-income communities are at the front lines of the impacts from our changing climate. They remain more likely to be hit first and hardest from climate-related disasters, and less likely to have the resources necessary to recover quickly. They are also more likely than their wealthier, white peers to live in areas with high heat indices and reduced tree canopy, placing them at greater risk of heat-related illness associated with climate-related extreme heat events. 

Growing up in communities disproportionately impacted by exposures to toxic chemicals — with limited access to quality health care, inadequate school and child care environments, low food and housing security, and limited access to nature — can have significant and pervasive impacts on children’s lives through adulthood. 

Together, we must dismantle racist systems within public health, and across all sectors and levels of government. We must work with and follow the lead of communities that have suffered from these systems to improve outcomes for all children.

Read and share the “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Children’s Environmental Health” fact sheet now.

For evidence-based recommendations on strengthening children’s environmental health and equity, see APHA policy statements on “Protecting Children’s Environmental Health: A Comprehensive Framework” and “Addressing Environmental Justice to Achieve Health Equity.” 

This guest post was written on behalf of the Children’s Environmental Health Committee.

(Photo by Pondsaksit, courtesy iStockphoto)