Advancing Children’s Environmental Health: Our Best Investment

Children image for Lek blog 10.30.13Anyone who has ever enjoyed watching a toddler explore their world knows that along with that marvelous sense of discovery comes potential trouble. Young children crawl around on the floor, play in the dirt, and don’t hesitate to retrieve a wayward cookie or other delectable treat hidden among the dust bunnies underneath the couch—and pop it straight into their mouth.

Behaviors like these, as well as their smaller bodies and still developing internal systems, make children more vulnerable to pollution and other environmental risks than us adults. That’s why we here at EPA make protecting children’s health a top priority.

While we are continually joining parents, educators, health and child care providers, and others to promote healthy environments wherever children live, learn, and play, we take special effort to promote and share that work during Children’s Health Month every October.

As part of the festivities, this week the nation’s top children’s health researchers and their partners—childcare providers, pediatricians, obstetricians, other clinicians, nurses and others—will be gathering here in Washington, DC to share 15 years’ worth of scientific achievement from a research program supported by EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEHS).

For 15 years, the two organizations have successfully partnered to support community-based, innovative research to expand knowledge about children’s environmental health through the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program.

The program has promoted collaborative interactions among basic scientists, clinicians, behavioral and social scientists, and a host of experts from other disciplines, all working together to better understand the persistent effects of chemicals and other environmental exposures on the developing child, from before birth through young adulthood.

That approach is one of the many reasons why the collective achievements of the Children’s Centers ranks among the most successful public health research programs anywhere, leading to groundbreaking discoveries concerning many of the most pressing environmentally-related challenges affecting children’s health today, including chemical and pesticide exposures, environmental justice, asthma, autism, and childhood development.

Just some recent examples include: a study showing that a change during pregnancy involving groups of genes turned “on” and “off” may have long-term health effects, lasting from before birth at least into early childhood; the identification of seven primary “auto-antibodies” and corresponding antigens that appear to be linked to a specific kind of autism (maternal autoantibody-related autism, or MAR); and, a study that appears to link the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) to lower essential hormones in pregnant women and infant boys.

This highly successful, multidisciplinary research program places tremendous emphasis on engaging local communities.  A central requirement of the program is translating research findings into ways that gets results to where they can make the most impact protecting children: to parents and other care providers.

The 2013 Children’s Centers Conference, “Protecting Children’s Health for a Lifetime: Environmental Health Research Meets Clinical Practice and Public Policy,” celebrates both Children’s Health Month and the 15-year anniversary of the Children’s Centers program.

I welcome all the conference participants, EPA researchers and their partners, and everyone else to celebrate children’s health month and learn more about how EPA science and other actions on behalf of children are building a brighter, healthier future for the nation.  You won’t even need to get dirty!

For More Information about children’s environmental health, please visit:

Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He has over 29 years of management experience in both government and the private sector, with broad experience in leading organizational change and improvement, policy development, resource management, information management and technology. Mr. Kadeli graduated from George Mason University in 1983 with a B.A. in International Relations. In 1986, he earned an M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University.

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