The impact of toxic substances on children's health: are parents getting the information they need?

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ever worry about what's in your household products and how they could affect your family's health? Over 30 years of research has shown that low-level exposure to common toxic substances in our homes and household products can negatively affect the health of fetuses and young children. Research on parental knowledge of these environmental health risks suggests that not enough is being done to inform families about these risks and possible prevention strategies.

“Growing scientific evidence shows that even low dose exposure to toxic substances during fetal and child development can have harmful, often permanent, effects on children's health and ability to learn,” notes Dr. Eric Crighton, a professor and leading researcher on parental perceptions of children's environmental health risks. “Yet most expectant parents are not informed of these risks by their doctors. There is a growing recognition that this needs to change.”

Dr. Crighton's recent study examined the awareness and concerns expressed by new mothers, and protective actions related to environmental health risks to which their young children might be exposed. The study demonstrated that although new mothers are often concerned about the effects of these substances on their children's health, they are not getting the information they need to reduce these risks. “These findings underscore the need to improve environmental health education among parents and develop strategies to ensure that practical advice on how to reduce toxicant exposures becomes a routine part of prenatal care,” explained Eric Crighton.

“It's about prevention,” says Erica Phipps, Executive Director of the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE). “Developing fetuses and children are much more vulnerable to harm from toxic substances than adults. So we need to let expectant and new parents know what they can do to reduce exposure. We also need to ensure that toxic substances don't end up in our products and environment in the first place.”

On November 20 and 21, the University of Ottawa will host over 100 experts and health practitioners attending the Prenatal Environmental Health Education (PEHE) Forum. The forum is a first-ever national multidisciplinary effort to address current educational gaps on environment-health hazards and their implications for child health outcomes in Canada.

The PEHE Forum aims to build partnerships and develop informed strategies for improving prenatal environmental health education in Canada, and ultimately, to reduce early exposure and improve children's health.

Media inquiries

Danika Gagnon
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Office: 613-562-5800 ext. 2981
Cell: 613-863-7221

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