UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel and Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, July 2018

New Children’s Environmental Health Video Promotes Prevention

For years the health care industry has focused more on finding treatments and cures for chronic diseases and disabilities, rather than on prevention. This may be hazardous to our health, according to a new video entitled Cause or Cure? from Little Things Matter productions. UCSF’s Dr. Mark Miller, Co-Director of the Western States Pediatric Environmental Specialty Unit (PEHSU), consulted on the video, which uses childhood leukemia and autism to illustrate how environmental triggers play a major role in the development of diseases and disabilities. The video’s key message is that shifting more of our resources to prevention could reduce the incidence of many chronic diseases.

Focus on Prevention is Key

The video was produced by Dr. Bruce Lanphear, Professor of Children’s Environmental Health at BC Children’s Hospital and Simon Fraser University. It had its official release at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in Toronto in May, where according to Dr. Miller it was very well-received, earning a huge round of applause.

In the video, Dr. Lanphear points to the increase in cases of childhood leukemia and autism over the past 40 years and argues that since our genetics change over many generations, this rapid increase cannot be entirely explained by genetics. He makes the connection between environmental exposures, including toxic chemicals, and children’s risk for developing leukemia, autism, and other diseases. Some of the risk factors for childhood leukemia include exposure to environmental triggers such as paints and solvents, air pollution, pesticides, and tobacco smoke.

Dr. Lanphear claims that if this exposure were eliminated, many cases of chronic diseases could be prevented; yet, only a very small percentage of childhood cancer and autism research dollars is focused on prevention and identifying environmental triggers. He urges us to use our collective voice to support prevention, stronger laws and policies to protect people from pollutants, the testing of chemicals for toxicity before they are used in consumer products, and investing more in research to prevent disease.

Dr. Miller concurs with Lanphear, saying, “We have a lot of accumulating evidence leading us to believe that environmental exposures increase the risk of getting these diseases.” He shares that this video was designed to bring these children’s environmental health issues to the general public, as well as practitioners and medical, nursing, and public health students.

Raising Awareness of Environmental Health Issues

UCSF is working to increase awareness of the environmental health issues shared in the video by presenting at conferences, providing free resources and tools, and embedding environmental health into the UCSF curriculum.

  • National Latino Cancer Summit: At the end of July, Dr. Miller, and other consultants for the video from UC Berkeley’s Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment (CIRCLE), will be presenting at the National Latino Cancer Summit, which is being held at UCSF. This summit will bring together researchers, providers, community agencies, and outreach workers to explore the disparate impact of cancer on Latino populations.

  • Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit: UCSF’s Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit (PEHT) is a free web-based resource that provides a reference guide for health providers on preventing exposures to toxic chemicals and other substances that affect children’s health.

  • A Story of Health eBook: Western States PEHSU’s A Story of Health eBook explores how environments interact with our genes to influence health and includes a chapter, “Stephen’s Story,” specifically on childhood leukemia.

  • Environmental Health in the Curriculum: Currently, the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), in collaboration with Western States PEHSU, is developing environmental health curricula to integrate into UCSF’s Life Stages syllabus, which focuses on health across the lifespan. A key to PRHE’s approach is to make environmental health scientifically and clinically relevant to all students, partnering with researchers, clinicians, and lecturers. “Our goal is to integrate environmental health issues into everything medical students are learning at UCSF,” explained Annemarie Charlesworth, MA, Associate Director, UCSF Environmental Health Initiative. Environmental health was one of the inquiry courses last August in the new Bridges curriculum, required for all second-year medical students.

What You Can Do

Learn More:

  • Watch the video!
  • Review the resources on childhood leukemia and the environment from UC Berkeley’s CIRCLE.
  • Visit the Western States PEHSU website for information on children and environmental health.
  • Practitioners, read these journal articles co-authored by Dr. Miller: “Children’s Cancer and Environmental Exposures: Professional Attitudes and Practices” and “Childhood Leukemia and Primary Prevention.”

Protect Yourself and Your Family:

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to toxic substances; read labels and choose products carefully.
  • Check air quality reports and avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are ‘unhealthy’.