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Protecting Children’s Health for a Lifetime

Published October 19, 2017

For more than 17 years, EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have partnered to invest more than $300 million to advance research and expand our knowledge about children’s environmental health through the NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program (Children’s Centers). The partnership has turned research and discovery into action, providing communities across the country with the information they need to better protect children from environmental exposures wherever they live, learn, and play.  

To date, 46 grants have been awarded to 24 Centers through a highly competitive process. The result has been a unique, collaborative network drawn from a diverse array of experts and practitioners all brought together through the common goal of lowering health risks to children.

“By design, the Children’s Centers do not allow the traditional boundaries of any particular discipline or area of expertise to limit the array of approaches taken to explore and understand the links between children and their environment. This innovative, wide-angle lens approach is what has allowed the program to provide evidence to help protect our children and transform the field of children’s environmental health,” explains Nica Louie, the EPA Project Office for the program. By uniting pediatricians, public health official, clinicians, social scientists, caregivers, and public information experts into single teams, the centers successfully bridge the gap between identifying the sources of environmental exposures to children and illuminating the steps necessary to prevent them and improve health outcomes.  

Center researchers are investigating how the complex interactions of environmental, genetic, epigenetic, social, and cultural factors may be linked in ways that influence the development of many of today’s most pressing children’s health concerns, including diseases such as asthma, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurodevelopmental deficits, childhood leukemia, diabetes, and obesity.

The output has been prolific. EPA/NIEHS Children’s Centers researchers have published a host of important and influential findings on research subjects important to protecting children’s health. Since 1998, Children’s Center researcher results have been disseminated in more than 2,500 publications, including journal articles and book chapters. That knowledge base now serves as a critical foundation for reducing health risks and improving quality of life for children and their families.

All that effort has had tremendous impact. The centers have lead the way in clarifying the relationship between exposures in the earliest stages of life, including before birth, and the occurrence of disease later in life. Improving understanding of the developmental origins of health and disease is critical for developing effective interventions to reduce health risks and improve quality of life for children.

Research from the centers has led to new detection, treatment, and prevention strategies related to environmental exposures. From California to Maryland, results published from center researchers has been cited in new regulations and other actions taken to protect children’s health.

A recently released report, NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Centers Impact Report:  Protecting children’s health where they live, learn, and play, highlights some of the important contributions the centers have made. The report provides examples of success in the community and in support of public health and is organized in three section: health outcomes, environmental exposures and hallmark features. The health outcomes section presents scientific findings from the Children’s Centers on asthma, birth outcomes, cancer, immune function, neurodevelopment, neurodevelopment as it effects autism spectrum disorder, obesity, and reproductive development. The environmental exposures section presents research findings on chemicals and pollutants children are commonly exposed to through air, water and food. The Hallmarks section highlights the unique features that have facilitated the work of the Children’s Centers and advancements in the field.

The Centers also emphasize community engagement and the importance of translating research findings to make them accessible and useful to doctors, nurses, public health officials, caregivers, and local community stakeholders. Thanks to such innovations in the research approach, the impacts of the NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Centers can be expected to continue to flow to those who need them most, and well into the future.

For more information on the centers, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/research-grants/niehsepa-childrens-environmental-health-and-disease-prevention-research-centers