By SARAH HAMMING
Capital News Service
LANSING — Cancer, autism, asthma and attention deficit disorder afflict Michigan children at a greater rate than the nationwide average, according to a recent report.
The Children’s Environmental Health Network profiled the environmental health of children in Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina as indicators of environmental hazards. The network plans to compile similar reports for the remaining 47 states as more funding is secured.
Reports for these three states were completed first because of the large amounts of federal funding and because other efforts to improve children’s health there are particularly interesting, said Nsedu Witherspoon, the group’s executive director.
The reports emphasize the importance of protecting children from environmental threats, she said. Exposure to harmful agents from a young age can harm the health of children who “breathe, eat and drink more, in proportion to their body size, than do adults, and because their bodies and brains are still developing.”
Eight key indicators are identified for the three states: safe drinking water, air quality, warming temperatures, toxic chemical releases, neuro-developmental disorders, asthma, pediatric cancer and blood lead levels.
For the eight indicators, Michigan performed worse than Minnesota in all but two categories and had the same degree of temperature increase since 1970. Air quality couldn’t be compared because little data on ozone pollution is known for Minnesota.
The reports shed light on important health issues, such as the higher asthma rates in Michigan, said Tina Reynolds, the program director of environmental health at the Michigan Environmental Council.
They could also be a helpful tool for parents, she said.
Both Michigan and Minnesota have been checking all the boxes to receive federal support, Witherspoon said. Within the past five years, both states have received support through a variety of federal environmental health programs under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry.
High child poverty in Michigan is still a major concern, Witherspoon said. Nearly 20% of Michigan’s 2.2 million children live in poverty, according to the network’s report. Minnesota has a 12% child poverty rate.
Poverty significantly harms the health of children and their families, the report says. Children of color and young children are disproportionately poor and may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.
While moving in a positive direction, Michigan is “not out of the woods yet,” Witherspoon said. Environmental threats to child health were been created overnight and will not be solved overnight.
The reports, if used correctly, could link states to child health champions, increase advocacy and capacity for public health staffing and funding, create connections with elected officials to overcome these challenges and hold those accountable for the health and well-being of current and future generations, she said.
Sarah Hamming is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo