Children's Environmental Health: Risks Around the World - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Children's Environmental Health
Risks Around the World

The World Health Organization has categorized environmental health risks to children into the categories basic, modern, and emerging.1

Basic Risks
(more significant for children in poverty-stricken countries)
Modern Risks
(more significant for children in industrialized countries)
Emerging Risks
(tend to affect all children)
  • unhealthy housing
  • unsafe water supply
  • lack of sanitation
  • indoor air pollution
  • leaded gasoline
  • chronic respiratory illness and asthma
  • injuries from transport accidents
  • toxic chemicals
  • neurodevelopmental and behavioral effects
  • endocrine disruptors
  • environmental allergens
  • UV radiation

As populations transition from low to high income, basic risks decrease and modern risks increase. The pattern of leading environmental health problems in children shifts as more countries develop.

Hazards Children Face Can Be Determined By:

Lead Poisoning Example
Lead poisoning remains a problem for children all over the world, but priorities for interventions are different depending on location. Children in some developing countries are exposed to lead in gasoline. In the U.S., lead was banned as a gasoline additive in the 1970s but remains a problem particularly for children who live in pre-1950s housing with deteriorated paint. Some cultures in both developing and developed countries use lead in home remedies. Please visit this page for more information on lead poisoning prevention.
  • Geographic location where the child is raised
    (developed or developing country, urban or rural area)
  • Income and educational level of the family and community
  • Cultural factors

Although children all over the world are exposed to environmental health risks, the type and magnitude of risks facing children in the United States are often unique.

  • Children who grow up in the U.S. are, in general, healthier than those in many parts of the world.
  • The last century of public health and technological progress has afforded significant improvements in children's health.

However, environmental hazards still affect children's health. Children have been exposed to environmental health hazards for hundreds of years and they continue to be exposed.

Some exposures were recognized as being harmful centuries ago, while it has taken longer for the toxicity of others to be discovered. Among the fairly new chemicals emitted into the environment, some have been identified as toxic and others will likely be identified as harmful in the future as more research is conducted. Many resources are devoted to understanding which exposures are hazardous for children. Decreasing children's exposures to both familiar and emerging environmental contaminants is a public health priority.


Updated Monday, 20-Sep-2021 15:46:55 CDT