Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Children's Environmental Health: Homes of Influence

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Children's Environmental Health: Homes of Influence

Article excerpt

A Blueprint for Protecting Children's Environmental Health: An Urgent Call to Action

Over the past three years, the Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN), a national multi-disciplinary nonprofit organization with the primary mission to protect all children from environmental hazards, has led efforts to assess the field of children's environmental health (CEH) for the benefit of more effective and efficient actions. CEHN has worked with numerous stakeholder groups with the common goal of providing safe and healthy environments for children. Stemming from these efforts, and in collaboration with leaders in the field, we have developed a resource report--"A Blueprint for Protecting Children's Environmental Health: An Urgent Call to Action" (CEHN 2015a)--with a suite of recommendations that presents the case for identifying, acknowledging, and working within the many homes of influence that affect the field of children's environmental health and influence children's environments, whether positively or negatively.

In this article, the phrase "homes of influence" refers to individuals, organizations, government entities, coalitions, and others (e.g., grassroots organizations and stakeholders across multiple sectors) that can influence opinions and behavior in groups or individuals through the use of power, leadership, and authority, both legitimate and conferred. These homes can and should be united into a system that we refer to here as a neighborhood of influence. Far too many of these homes do their good work in isolation, which can lead to duplication of effort, loss of valuable resources, and ultimately, failure to achieve long-term success. The homes of influence in CEH represent varied fields and perspectives, including health professionals; nonprofit advocacy organizations; community stakeholders with particular environmental and health concerns; federal, state, and municipal governments and policy makers; the research community; educators; industry; and funders from both government entities and private foundations. In this rapidly changing world, with its growing population and ever-evolving marketplace, it is crucial for those working to protect CEH to know all the players, the power brokers, and the homes of influence that will make a difference in CEH in the years ahead.

Using Asthma as an Example of the Need for Action

We use asthma to illustrate how multiple sectors or homes influence or contribute to, positively or negatively, the burden of childhood asthma via environmental factors. Asthma, a chronic respiratory illness, is one of the most common chronic disorders in childhood that currently affects an estimated 6.3 million children < 18 years old in the United States (CDC 2014a). It is a leading cause of missed school days and hospital visits for children. Although the underlying causes of this complex disease are still not fully understood, researchers agree that gene-environment interactions are clearly at play (McLeish and Turner 2007; Mukherjee and Zhang 2011; Murdoch and Lloyd 2010). Besides playing a role in the development of new-onset asthma (Chen et al. 2015), some environmental factors, such as air pollution, can affect the frequency and the severity of the symptoms that manifest in children already diagnosed. The homes of influence for understanding environmental contributions to asthma and the actions needed to prevent or mitigate them comprise almost all significant areas of the child's environment.

In the United States, federally funded research on asthma, its causes, exacerbations, treatments, and most importantly prevention, has been led by three institutes within the National Institutes of Health--the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)--and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). …

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