For the first time since the US government has been collecting data on it, the top five disabilities affecting US children are no longer physical problems, but rather, mental problems, as reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Additionally, almost 8 percent of children now have a disability that limits their activity, a four-fold increase since 1960.
One of the suggested reasons for the increase in mental health disorders is the, “exposure to new or more environmental toxins during pregnancy and early childhood.” Improvements in diagnosis were also suggested as a contributor to the increased rate. Although conclusions about what has caused the increase are premature, we will certainly be seeing more research in the coming years.
“In terms of reduced economic outcomes, mental health issues in childhood are a serious problem, way bigger than obesity,” stated James P. Smith, a researcher of child health histories. The report stated that only about half of children with mental health problems get any kind of services, highlighting the gravity of the issue.
Bruce Lanphear, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, stated that prevention of children’s disabilities in the first place will be more effective than treating them. “Children, who are more vulnerable than adults to adverse effects from environmental toxins, are sometimes exposed to numerous chemicals that may be contributing to mental and developmental problems,” stated Lanphear.
The report went on to cite studies linking environmental exposures to mental health in children, including, “the association of black carbon (an airborne byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion) with reduced verbal and nonverbal intelligence and poor memory; of low lead exposure with lower IQ scores; prenatal exposure to tobacco with ADHD; and organophosphate pesticides, mercury, and PCBs with ADHD. Lamphear’s own research found associations between prenatal exposure to bisphenol A and depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hyperactivity in young girls.
I applaud the coverage of this topic in such a prominent journal. Now I hope the medical community and governmental regulations will start to do something about it. We can no longer deny or turn our backs on the fact that environmental toxins are taking an enormous toll on our health.