What is Environmental Health?

The environment is what is all around us: it consists of the foods, drugs, natural products, and chemicals that we eat, touch and breathe in everyday life.  There is mounting evidence that environmental factors contribute substantially to many childhood diseases.  The ways in which the environment affects diseases and health conditions can differ from child to child depending on age and developmental stage, geographic location, nutritional status, socioeconomic status and genetics.

In practice, environmental health focuses on the effects of environmental agents that fall into three main categories:

    Pollutants and chemicals such as lead, mercury, and ozone
    Useful commercial products that enter our environment and may have health implications, such as
    pesticides and herbicides
    Natural toxins that are part of our everyday life, such as toxins produced by molds, bacteria, and certain
    fish and shellfish.

Pediatricians in many countries are faced with concerns about the ways in which environmental contamination affects children.  Consider, for example, the melamine contamination of infant formula in China in 2008 or the epidemic of aflatoxicosis in Kenya in 2005.  Pediatricians may not have the time, however, to pursue extra training in environmental health.  Few medical schools or pediatric residency programs offer much preparation for doctors about environmental hazards.  This leaves most pediatricians with the task of learning the very complex and ever-changing field of environmental health on their own.  To assist in this endeavor, the International Pediatric Association and the World Health Organization have developed a curriculum for use in training pediatricians and others who care for children.