Sadly, American children are in many ways less healthy now than they were a few decades ago. Learning disabilities, diabetes, and childhood cancers are all becoming more common. Pediatricians, along with other health experts and researchers, believe pesticides have played a big role in this rise. The National Academy of Sciences recently estimated that over ⅓ of all developmental and behavioral disorders—including autism and ADHD—are caused by exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides.
As dangerous as these poisons are to adults, they pose an even greater risk to our children. Because they learn through touch and spend significant amounts of time close to the ground, children are much more prone to pesticide exposure. Their low body weight and faster metabolisms also make children more susceptible to pesticide poisoning—their bodies are simply too small to adequately remove these harmful chemicals from their systems. In fact, it’s estimated that 50% of all annual pesticide poisoning cases occur in children under 7 years of age. But how else are pesticides affecting our kids? Here’s 6 ways pesticides may be harming your children.
Recent studies on pesticide exposure and brain function are all but unanimous: exposure during pregnancy, infancy, or childhood can significantly damage the brain and irreversibly alter mental development—leading to learning disabilities and decreased intelligence. In fact, pesticides are having such a significant impact on young brains, experts at Harvard and Mt. Sinai Hospital are calling the situation a “silent pandemic.”
These impacts, sadly, are often irreversible, leaving children mentally disabled for the rest of their lives. One study, for example, linked prenatal pesticide exposure to a seven-point reduction in IQ. Another, conducted by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, found pesticide exposure in the womb is consistently involved with “measurable deficits in child neurodevelopment.”
Alarmingly, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased by about 4% every year since 1997. Recent research suggests this rise is related with pesticide exposure. Scientists now believe anywhere from 20% to 40% of ADHD cases are caused, not by genetics, but by environmental pollutants like chemical-based pesticides. One such study conducted by the CDC looked at children and the effects of exposure to organophosphates, a type of chemical present in many popular pesticides. Researchers discovered that 94% of over 1000 children tested had evidence of these chemicals in their bloodstream. They also found that those with the highest levels were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as those with no detectable levels of organophosphates. Researchers also found a connection between low birth weight and ADHD—no surprise, pesticide exposure at infancy or in the womb is a known cause of low birth weight.
Over the last few decades, the rate of childhood obesity has risen sharply. Noting this rise has coincided with an increased use of industrial chemicals nationwide, many experts now believe the obesity epidemic is associated with pesticide exposure early in life. Pesticides, it turns out, disrupt normal hormone production, which is largely responsible for helping to manage healthy weight. In fact, over the last 10 years, many studies have unearthed links between early pesticide exposure and both obesity and diabetes. In one study conducted in Denmark, for example, mothers exposed to pesticides through greenhouse work gave birth to children with notably higher BMI, or Body Mass Index scores. These children also experienced higher body fat percentages.
Evidence now suggests that many cases of autism might be the result of pesticide exposure early in life. New research into the links between pesticides and autism tell us prenatal exposures prove to be the most harmful. A study conducted in California's Central Valley found that pregnant mothers exposed to a widely used type of pesticide, organochlorines, had children with a much higher risk of autism. Specifically, those that lived within 500 feet of agricultural lands sprayed with these pesticides, were on average 6 times more likely to have children who suffered from autism.
Did you know birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S.? Sadly, the rate of birth defects is only rising—and researchers think pesticide and herbicide exposure might be the cause. While studies have long pointed to the links between pesticide exposure in parents and the occurrence of birth defects in their children, a recent study makes the connection even more obvious. A several year nationwide survey using CDC statistics discovered strong links between birth defects and seasonal pesticide use in agricultural regions. So impactful were these instances of pesticide use that babies conceived during months of heavy pesticide spraying (between April and July) were found to have significantly higher risk of birth defects.
Drawings of young children exposed to pesticides Vs. those not exposed.
Pesticide poisoning is known to affect the areas of the brain associated with fine motor skills, such as drawing.
Did you know cancer is the second leading cause of death in children under 15 years of age? Did you also know the most common childhood cancers—leukemia, brain cancer, neuroblastoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma—are all on the rise? Rates of both leukemia and childhood brain cancer, for example, have increased by as much as 50% since 1975. Science now tells us pesticides are likely to blame.
One study looking at pesticide use and its effects found that children who grow up in agricultural areas have a much higher risk of developing cancer during their lifetimes. Another, looking at personal pesticide use, found mothers exposed to household insecticides increased their child’s risk of leukemia by significant margins. Similarly, several studies have revealed connections between household herbicides and an increased risk of brain cancer in children. Neuroblastoma, the most common of all childhood cancers, has also been linked with household pesticide use: children whose parents commonly used home & garden pesticides (or worked in landscaping) were shown to have a much higher chance of developing neuroblastoma. Unfortunately, these risks aren’t limited to just the typical childhood cancers, like leukemia. According to the President’s Cancer Panel, young females exposed to certain pesticides before puberty were 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer in adulthood.