Michigan, Minnesota among first states to get children’s health report card

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By Sarah Hamming

Cancer, autism, asthma and attention deficit disorder afflict Michigan children at a greater rate than the nationwide average, according to a recent report.

The Children’s Environmental Health Network profiled the environmental health of children in Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina as indicators of environmental hazards. The network plans to compile similar reports for the remaining 47 states as more funding is secured.

Reports for these three states were completed first because of the large amounts of federal funding and other efforts to improve children’s health within them are particularly interesting, said Nsedu Witherspoon, the group’s executive director.

The reports emphasize the importance of protecting children from environmental threats, she said. Exposure to harmful agents from a young age can harm the health of children who “breathe, eat and drink more, in proportion to their body size, than do adults, and because their bodies and brains are still developing.”

Eight key indicators are identified for the three states: safe drinking water, air quality, warming temperatures, toxic chemical releases, neuro-developmental disorders, asthma, pediatric cancer and blood lead levels.

Of the eight indicators, Michigan performed worse than Minnesota in all but two categories and had the same degree of temperature increase since 1970. Air quality couldn’t be compared because little data on ozone pollution is known for Minnesota.

Michigan Minnesota N. Carolina National
Safe Drinking Water % of public water utilities that had drinking water violations 25% 4% 27% 34%
Air Quality Michigan: children under age 18 that live in counties with unhealthy ozone pollution
Minnesota/N.Carolina: children under age 18 that live in counties that do not monitor ozone pollution
1.5 million 629,216 257,248 n/a
Warming Temperatures Degrees F warmer than 1970 2.7 degrees F 2.7 degrees F 2.1 degrees F 2.5 degrees F
Toxic Chemical Releases Pounds of toxic chemicals disposed of or released 92.7 million 23 million 52.1 million 3.9 billion
ADHD/ADD % of children age 3-17 that have ADHD or ADD 10.2% 8.5% 10.5% 3.8%
Autism Spectrum Disorder % of children age 3-17 that have Autism Spectrum Disorder 2.8% 3.5% 1.7% 2.8%
Asthma % of children under age 18 that have asthma 8.3% 6.8% 7.8% 7.5%
Pediatric Cancer Cases of pediatric cancer per 1 million population 184.8 185.7 172.8 181.0
Blood Lead Levels % of tested children under age 6 with elevated blood lead levels 1.7% 0.6% 0.7% 3.0%

A comparison of environmental health indicators in Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina based on the 2019 Children’s Environmental Health Network reports.

The reports shed light on important health issues, such as the higher asthma rates in Michigan, said Tina Reynolds, the program director of environmental health at the Michigan Environmental Council.

They could also be a very helpful tool for parents, she said.

Both Michigan and Minnesota have been checking all the boxes to receive federal support, Witherspoon said. Within the past five years, both of the states have received support through a variety of federal environmental health programs under the Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry.

High child poverty within Michigan is still a major concern, Witherspoon said. Nearly 20% of Michigan’s 2.2 million children live in poverty, according to the network’s report. Minnesota has a 12% child poverty rate.

Poverty significantly harms the health of children and their families, the report says. Children of color and young children are disproportionately poor and may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.

While moving in a positive direction, Michigan is “not out of the woods yet,” Witherspoon said. Environmental threats to child health have not been created overnight and will not be solved overnight.

The reports, if used correctly, could link states to child health champions, increase advocacy and capacity for public health staffing and funding, create connections with elected officials to overcome these challenges and hold those accountable for the health and well-being of current and future generations, she said.

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