Every Child Has the Right to Thrive in a Healthy Environment

By Leyla Erk McCurdy, Chair, Children’s Environmental Health Committee, American Public Health Association, Environment Section

We love our children. And that comes with certain responsibilities. Providing them with clean air, clean water, and healthy sustainable communities with access to natural environments, where they can reach their optimal potential are some of those responsibilities. Unfortunately, the climate crisis we are facing not only impacts the future of  children, but poses many hazards to them today.

The Children’s Environmental Health Committee of the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Environment Section strives to increase awareness and promote collaborative efforts aimed at reducing risks to the health of children where they live, learn and play. Recognizing that climate change is the greatest public health threat to the physical and mental well-being of children, during October, which is Children’s Health Month, and on Children’s Environmental Health Day (October 10),  we are partnering with Climate for Health,  Children’s Environmental Health Network  and others  to raise awareness and mobilize society to take action to protect children from hazards of climate change. 

APHA’s policy statement Protecting Children’s Environmental Health: A Comprehensive Framework

demonstrates that children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental health hazards because of their growing bodies, their unique behaviors and interactions with their surroundings, and their dependency on caregivers. Limited access to social and economic opportunities and lack of quality resources increase a child’s vulnerability to toxicants and pathogens present in the environment. These vulnerabilities are heightened by numerous health effects associated with climate change.

APHA’s recent report, Protecting the Health of Children: A National Snapshot of Environmental Health Services  shows that climate change services in states across America are lacking, and emphasizes the need for coordinated, comprehensive and intentional efforts to reduce or eliminate environmental risks to children. APHA recently established the Center for Climate, Health and Equity to inspire action on climate and health, advance policy and galvanize the field to address climate change.

To learn more about the health impacts of climate change on children, especially disadvantaged children, and to explore how all sectors of society, including youth can take action to protect children and their families, join us at the APHA Annual Meeting session Protecting Our Children- Climate Change, Children’s Health and Equity .

On the occasion of the 2019  Children’s Environmental Health Day  I had the privilege of participating in an  APHA Podcast to interview Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Co-Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard C-CHANGE) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and discuss  how children are vulnerable to climate change and some efforts underway to protect them.   

On this Children’s Environmental Health Day and going forward we encourage everyone to take action to protect children from the impacts of climate change in order to give them the opportunity to reach their full potential in a healthy environment today and in the future.


The American Public Health Association is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health.  Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.


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