According to the May issue of Future of the Children, the US government would get a better bang for its health-care buck in managing the country's most prevalent childhood disabilities if it invested more in eliminating socio-environmental risk factors than in developing medicines.
That's the key conclusion of "Prevention of Disability in Children: Elevating the Role of Environment", a new paper co-authored by a Simon Fraser University researcher.
"Our conclusions may sound obvious or benign, but they may also be viewed as medical heresy," says the co-author. "Most of us are convinced that we will solve our health care problems by investing in genetic research, stem cell research and drugs. But, the best that can be achieved by clinical intervention is enhanced treatment or early detection. It will not prevent disease."
Citing an American economic analysis of environmental hazards, the authors note that the cost of disease from exposure to pollutants linked with asthma, cancer and neurobehavioral disorders in a single year is $76 billion. Another study estimated a total potential net savings from the elimination of lead hazards, of $118 billion to $269 billion.
Even so-called safe levels of toxins are now linked to chronic diseases. The authors cite the number of children diagnosed with an activity limitation stemming from a chronic health condition rose from 1.8 per cent in 1960 to 7.3 per cent in 2006, while the prevalence of diagnosed developmental disabilities rose from 12.8 per cent in 1997-99 to 15 per cent in 2006-08.
Toxins, such as airborne pollutants, lead, tobacco, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organophosphate pesticides and bisphenol A, are combining to increase the incidence of prevalent childhood disabilities. Asthma, obesity, mental illness and neuro-behavioural problems, such as ADHD and autism, are among these disabilities.
The authors recommend using Vancouver, British Columbia as a model for creating healthy cities of the future. They have low levels of air pollution for a large city. They also have low smoking rates, few highways that fragment the city, which encourages exercise, low levels of lead and a closed water system with pristine land to collect water. The government leaders are also strongly committed to making Vancouver the greenest city in the world.
Bonnie and Steve: Wow. It is a pleasure to see others being so blunt in their assessment for improving our future generations. Even more, they have incredible data to back it up!