Living environments, including housing and institutional settings, can support health across the life span, from infancy through old age.
Infants and Children
- Exposures to environmental and occupational hazards before and during pregnancy can increase the risk of subsequent health problems for infants and children. These problems include birth defects, developmental disabilities, and childhood cancer.5, 6
- Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because their bodily systems are still developing and their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms.6
- Asthma is the third ranking cause of non-injury-related hospitalization among children age 14 and younger.
- Childhood lead poisoning reduces IQ, which can never be regained. Recent studies suggest that children with blood lead levels well below the Federal standard (10 ug/dl) can suffer from diminished IQ and effects on behavior.5
- Work-related factors, including occupational exposures to chemicals, excessive heat or cold, and noise, can create or worsen a variety of health problems, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and heart disease.
- Environmental hazards, including extreme temperatures, air quality, and pollution, can pose a significant risk to older adults, especially those with COPD or asthma.
Determinants of Environmental Quality
Many environments in which people live, work, and play expose them to pollution and hazards. Fortunately, homes, communities, workplaces, and schools can be designed to promote healthy choices and improve safety. Healthy community design can improve people's health and safety by:
- Improving air and water quality
- Decreasing mental health stresses
- Strengthening the social fabric of a community
- Providing fair access to employment opportunities, education, and resources
- Increasing options for physical activity and healthful diets
- Decreasing injuries and accidents
The ability to live in an area with high environmental quality is associated with gender, age, education level, income, race and ethnicity, and geographic location. Many health-related hazards (like mold, allergens, poor indoor air quality, structural deficiencies, and lead) are disproportionately found in low-income housing. Addressing these determinants is key in reducing health disparities and improving the health of all Americans. Efforts are needed to overcome barriers to improving environmental quality.
5U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fast Facts on Children's Environmental Health. Washington, DC: 2008. Available from http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/fastfacts.htm
6Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Environment and Women's Health Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: 2009.