Children's Health in Indian Country

By Margo Young

As a mom of two young children I relate to any parent or caregiver trying to create a healthy environment for children to thrive and grow. As a public health worker in the field of children’s health protection, I am also acutely aware that the environments we raise our children in this country are vastly different from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state, and that these differences impact the health and well-being of our children.

This is especially true in Indian Country. While many Native American populations maintain intricate and ecologically interdependent relationships with the natural environment, these relationships have been impacted by environmental pollution, changes in subsistence lifestyles and political isolation, which threaten the health, wellness, and way of life of tribal communities. In light of Children’s Health Month, it is appropriate to highlight these differences, but also embrace the common goal of protecting our most vulnerable populations of children.

Children often bear a disproportionate impact from environmental contaminants. Living conditions, walkable communities, access to play areas and health care and limited resources are some of the challenges that tribal communities face in addressing environmental health issues. American Indian and Alaska Native children are more than twice as likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases and are more likely to be hospitalized from these chronic conditions. These illnesses can be caused or exacerbated by substandard housing conditions and poor indoor air quality, including mold and moisture, wood burning, the use of pesticides and other chemicals, smoking and inadequate ventilation. Fixing and addressing these problems can prevent certain life-long impacts on children.

The good news is that there are many actions we can take to address these issues and make homes and communities healthier for children. You can find information and tips on improving indoor air quality in tribal communities from EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tribal Partners Program. Protecting the health of children is a compelling motivation to improve our environment — during Children’s Health Month and throughout the year. Take the initiative now and find out what you can do to improve children’s health.

About the Authors: Margo Young lives in Seattle and is the Region 10 Children’s Environmental Health and Environmental Education Coordinator and has been with EPA for over 5 years.

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