By Dr. James H. Johnson Jr.
Although children make up 30 percent of the population, they are 100 percent of our future. As a former college professor, I’ve had the distinct honor of serving as an educator and mentor to many, many young people, and there is no greater personal or professional pleasure than watching that kind of investment grow.
Today marks the beginning of Children’s Health Action Week at EPA, and I’m thrilled to kick off a number of blog posts we will be sharing about what is without a doubt one of the greatest investments we make in our nation’s future: children’s environmental health research.
In 1998, EPA, together with our partner at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), established the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program (Children’s Centers), one of the most successful public health research programs in the world. The program funds multi-disciplinary, community- and university-based research centers that together serve as a network of top experts and practitioners in children’s environmental health.
The Children’s Centers program fosters collaborative research that connects scientists, social scientists, pediatricians, public health professionals and community organizations all focused on a single overarching goal: to improve the health and environments of children. Together, their work has led to groundbreaking research results. Examples include:
- Children living within 75 meters of a major road had a 50% greater risk of exhibiting asthma (McConnell et al, EHP, 2006);
- A link between low-level arsenic exposures during pregnancy and low birth weights (Fei et al, Environmental Health, 2013);
- Children exposed prenatally to high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos have lower intelligence testing scores at age seven (Rauh et all, EHP, 2011);
- Prenatal exposure to phthalates may adversely affect child respiratory health and increase the risk of asthma among inner-city children (Whyatt et all, EHP, 2014); and
- Organic brown rice syrup may be a source of arsenic exposure (Jackson et all, EHP, 2012).
The Centers are explicitly designed to match researchers with public health experts and caregivers so that the results of their work quickly and effectively reach those who can put it into practice and protect children wherever they live, learn and play.
For the past 16 years, EPA has invested over $130 million (matched by NIEHS) to fund more than 30 Children’s Centers.
This week, EPA is not only celebrating the great strides we have made in children’s health research, but we are also recommitting ourselves to our overall mission of ensuring safe and healthy lives for all children. The Children’s Centers are providing the research that will help parents and mentors achieve that. It is a rewarding investment.
Please join me in celebrating children’s health week and 16 years of scientific achievement by learning about how EPA and its partners are providing a better world for our children, today.
About the Author: Dr. James H, Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.