Health Effects

Although the origin and manifestation of developmental disabilities and adverse health effects reflect complex interactions among many factors, the role of the environment cannot be ignored.

Environmental health scientists have long established that the developing nervous system is particularly vulnerable to environmental pollutants. Many substances easily penetrate the placenta during prenatal development, and because the fetal blood-brain barrier is not fully formed, toxicants can enter and impact brain development through direct toxicity or through altering critical regulatory systems in the body. In addition, environmental chemicals can interfere with fetal development by disrupting the growth of the placenta and affecting the transfer of nutrients from the placenta to the fetus.

This may result in genetic damage, which when acquired during the fetal period have the potential to have long term effects than those acquired later in life. They are less capable than adults are of detoxifying harmful substances and repairing damage as their biological defense mechanisms are still forming.

Young children also engage their environments differently than adults; they eat more, drink more, and breathe more than adults in proportion to their body weight. They place things in their mouths and play on the ground, thus increasing their exposure. Therefore, it is imperative that interventions are conducted in the earliest stages of a child’s life, in order to prevent the developmental and health deficits that our research has linked to common environmental hazards.

  • Asthma

    Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that causes difficulty breathing, and occurs most commonly in people who become sensitized to certain allergens in our environment.

  • Cancer

    Cancer is the leading cause of death from disease in children in the United States, with more than 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The disease develops from multiple factors, some unknown, including environmental pollutants, genes, nutrition, immunologic and socioeconomic factors.

  • Epigenetic Mechanisms

    The Center’s research focuses on how early exposure to environmental pollutants could alter gene expression, thereby affecting brain development, asthma, and even metabolic disorders and obesity. We believe that epigenetics might be especially important for pregnant women and infants, because much of the epigenetic code is laid down early in development; therefore, any environmental exposure that perturbs the signals controlling for gene expression while the child is developing can be potentially detrimental.

  • Obesity

    The U.S. has seen child obesity rates rise significantly over the last two decades, with low-income and racial/ethnic minority children particularly affected. These trends are concerning and have significant public health implications, and will become a major health issue in the years to come.

  • Neurodevelopment

    The scientific problem of preventing childhood disease is urgent, as the rates of neurodevelopmental disorders have increased in recent decades.

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