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From ear infections to loss of intelligence, it's become increasingly clear that air pollution can affect more than just our lungs.

Now, a study from University of Southern California researchers suggested that early exposure to traffic pollution increases the risk of childhood obesity in later life, adding more evidence that dirty air is a public health threat to children.

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By Reynard Loki

Many children play with toys that evoke the bucolic life on a farm. And many will likely visit a small local farm, where animals have space and access to sunlight and the outdoors. But most kids are probably not aware that, for the vast majority of farmed animals, life is anything but happy.

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Spending time in nature is known to boost mental and emotional health. Now, a new global study has found that children in 27 developing nations tend to have more diverse diets and better nutrition when they live near forests.

The paper, published Wednesday in Science Advances, provides evidence that forest conservation can be an important tool in promoting better nutrition in developing countries, rather than clear-cutting forests for more farmland.

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By Jordan Davidson

We often talk about leaving the world a better place for our children. But our kids are not standing idly by while we wonder how to clean up the mess we've made. Energetic, adept with technology and enthusiastic to create change, kids already have the tools to become stewards of the planet's ecological health. And they are ready to start now.

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The Miami coast is especially vulnerable to sea level rise. NOAA's National Ocean Service / Flickr

Climate change poses a key risk to low-lying Florida. When Climate Central ranked the 25 U.S. coastal cities that would be most vulnerable to coastal flooding in 2050 due to sea level rise projections, 20 of them were in the Sunshine State.

But Florida Governor Rick Scott has a history of sticking his head in the disappearing sand. In 2015, reports surfaced that his government had banned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from even using the words "climate change" in reports. Though he denies those charges, he also denies climate change. When asked to comment on it, he famously replied, "I'm not a scientist."

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By Molly M. Ginty

You shun Styrofoam tableware, buy organic oranges and even get your kids to eat leafy greens. But are you doing all you can to protect your children from toxic chemicals that may lurk inside their favorite foods?

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Phthalates are a particularly harmful type of chemical, used, among a range of other ways, to soften plastic in children's toys and products like pacifiers and teething rings. In response to mounting concern about the serious health impacts of phthalates—most notably, interference with hormone production and reproductive development in young children—Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to outlaw the use of a few phthalates in these products and ordered the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to assess the use of other types of the chemical in these products. After much delay, the CPSC voted 3–2 Wednesday to ban five additional types of phthalates in kids' toys and childcare products.

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Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children's Trust, stands with some of the youth plaintiffs from the landmark lawsuit Juliana v. United States. Photo credit: Robin Loznak

The Trump administration filed a motion Tuesday seeking an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a federal judge's Nov. 10, 2016 order in Juliana v. United States. The Trump administration also filed a motion to delay trial preparation until after its appeal is considered.

Further, the Trump administration asked for expedited review of both motions, arguing the plaintiffs' Jan. 24 letter requesting the government to retain records relating to climate change and communications between the government and the fossil fuel industry was overly burdensome. The excerpt from the government's stay motion said:

"Plaintiffs … intend to seek discovery relating to virtually all of the federal government's activities relating to control of CO2 emissions ... Compounding the United States' burdens, Plaintiffs have indicated that their intended discovery has a temporal scope of more than sixty years ... Absent relief, there will most certainly be depositions of federal government fact witnesses ... that will explore the extraordinarily broad topic of climate change and the federal government's putative knowledge over the past seven decades."

Yet, in another complex case regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and BP, the U.S. produced more than 17 million pages of documents from April to September of 2011. Plaintiffs maintain that their requests are limited, reasonable and aimed at getting to trial this fall.

Appeals typically do not occur until a trial court has issued final rulings following the presentation of evidence, but the Trump administration is asking federal Magistrate Judge Coffin to exercise his discretion to allow the case to proceed to the Court of Appeals before final judgment.

Attorneys representing fossil fuel industry defendants are expected to file papers supporting the government's motions on Friday.

"The Trump administration argues that this is a big case and so the burdens of preserving government documents warrant an expedited review," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "They're right. It is a big case. We have a classic example of the government's misplaced priorities: They prefer to minimize their procedural obligations of not destroying government documents over the urgency of not destroying our climate system for our youth plaintiffs and all future generations?"

In the government's answer to the youth plaintiffs' complaint, they admitted that "the use of fossil fuels is a major source of [carbon dioxide] emissions, placing our nation on an increasingly costly, insecure and environmentally dangerous path."

The case was brought by 21 young plaintiffs who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. Judge Ann Aiken's November order denied motions to dismiss brought by both the Obama administration and fossil fuel industry defendants.

"This request for appeal is an attempt to cover up the federal government's long-running collusion with the fossil fuel industry," Alex Loznak, 20-year-old plaintiff and Columbia University student, said. "My generation cannot wait for the truth to be revealed. These documents must be uncovered with all deliberate speed, so that our trial can force federal action on climate change."

Other pre-trial developments

  • During Wednesday's telephonic case management conference between attorneys for the parties and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took the view that the Trump administration, will have the opportunity to use executive privilege to prevent the release of evidence in the possession of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • DOJ attorneys said they recently informed the White House that NARA was in the process of gathering documents requested by the plaintiffs. It is the DOJ's view that former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, will have the opportunity to bar release of the records of their respective administrations, but President Trump will ultimately have the authority to bar release of any and all NARA records.
  • The next Juliana v. United States case management conference with Judge Coffin is scheduled for April 7 and will be telephonic.
  • Attorneys for youth plaintiffs are in the process of compiling a list of prospective witnesses to be deposed, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and expect to provide that list to defendants next week.

Juliana v. United States is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.

Michele Simon Susan Linn

In response to the public outcry over the negative impacts of junk food marketing to children, food companies have started using popular media characters to market “healthy” foods to children. These products include fruits and vegetables, as well as processed food. So we now have Campbell’s Disney Princess “Healthy Kids” soup, Kellogg’s Scooby-Doo! cereal (with less sugar) and others.

But is this really progress?

The developmental vulnerabilities of children, along with the legal, ethical and political pitfalls of encouraging the food industry to target kids, make marketing food to children harmful regardless of nutritional content.

Children are Especially Vulnerable to Advertising

Researchers and advocates for children’s health agree that advertising junk food to children is effective. One 30-second commercial can influence the food preferences of children as young as age two. For young children, branding even trumps taste. Preschool children report that junk food in McDonald’s packaging taste better than food in plain wrapping—even if it’s the same food. Similar studies show the same results for food packaging featuring media characters.

Research demonstrates that marketing any product to children under age 12 is inherently deceptive. Unlike adults, young children do not have the cognitive capacity to fully understand the purpose of advertising. Very young children cannot even distinguish between a TV program and a commercial. Until the age of about eight, they don’t really understand the concept of selling and they tend to believe what they see.

Moreover, only 40 percent of 11 and 12 year olds have a full understanding of persuasive intent—that every aspect of advertising is designed to convince them to do things they might not do otherwise. This makes children especially vulnerable to deception by hyperbole, puffery and other common advertising techniques.

Marketing Healthy Food Undermines Healthy Child Development

Some advocates argue that deceiving children to eat healthy food is good strategy. But such tactics are actually harmful. A primary goal for advocates should be for children to develop a healthy relationship to food. Foisting character-branded products on children undermines that effort. Marketing to children does more than sell products—it inculcates habits and behaviors. Marketing branded produce such as Kung-Fu Panda Edamame to children instills the unhealthy habit of choosing food based on marketing cues such as celebrity, rather than on a child’s own innate hunger, taste or good nutrition.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Children’s health depends on more than diet—their social, emotional and cognitive nourishment are also important. Popular media icons used to sell kids veggies also market myriad other products, including junk food, junk toys and screen media. Research shows that, among other harms, such commercialism inhibits children’s creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to initiate and complete tasks and projects—which is essential to a truly healthy childhood. And excessive screen time is linked to problems ranging from unhealthy eating, sleep disturbance and poor school performance.

All Marketing to Children is Inherently Misleading

While the food industry claims it has a First Amendment right to advertise to children, the law says otherwise. Free speech is not a blank check; it has limits. Current federal law actually prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising. Similarly, false or misleading advertising is not allowed under most state consumer protection statutes.

Marketing to children does not get First Amendment protection because it is inherently misleading. If a young child cannot even understand the purpose of an ad, then marketing anything to that child is both unfair and deceptive. The nutritional content of the product being marketed is irrelevant.

With enough political will, lawmakers could pass new laws banning marketing to children without running afoul of the First Amendment. Such policies are in effect in several other countries, and have not caused the economic sky to fall.

Calling for governmental endorsement of marketing “healthy” food to children potentially undermines these legal theories, which we need to preserve as we build a larger movement of advocates to protect children in a more effective and meaningful way.

We Can’t Beat the Food Industry at its Own Game

Finally, the food industry is happy to play along when advocates call for the marketing of “healthier” food to children. Corporate lobbyists have invented a voluntary self-regulation scheme to convince politicians and the public they’ve got it covered with nutrition standards that allegedly protect children.

But as many of these same advocates have rightly pointed out again and again, this non-system is a dismal failure. Even the federal government couldn’t persuade the food industry to improve its voluntary guidelines.

By begging and pleading with the food industry to improve how it markets to children, instead of working to end food marketing to children entirely, we are continuing to endorse a failed system in which industry gets to set the rules, break them whenever it pleases, and then take credit for doing the right thing. The CEO of McDonald’s recently claimed with a straight face that his company does not market to children. To bolster his case, he pointed to milk and apple slices in Happy Meals. This is just the sort of twisted logic that results from advocates asking industry to set nutrition standards for food marketing to children.

Less sugar in Scooby-Doo cereal and more apple slices in Happy Meals will not make children healthier. Instead of settling for such crumbs, advocates should take a stronger stand to protect children and demand that corporations stop engaging altogether in the unethical practice of marketing to children. Yes, this is a Herculean task and yes, it will take a massive movement to accomplish. Let’s get to work. The cost to children is too high if we don’t.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

Center for Environmental Health

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) today released a new report outlining the health risks to pregnant women and young children from harmful chemicals used in fracking. The report, Toxic and Dirty Secrets: The Truth About Fracking and Your Family’s Health, shows how chemicals related to the oil and gas industry when conducting fracking operations can pollute the air and water in communities around fracking sites and pose health risks especially to pregnant women and children, who are most vulnerable to chemical exposures.

The report
Toxic and Dirty Secrets: The Truth About Fracking and Your Family’s Health by Center for Environmental Health.

“Many harmful chemicals that we have been working so hard to eliminate from consumer products are now being used in mass quantity by fracking operations. In many instances, residents near fracking sites have already suffered from chemical pollution in their air and water,” said Ansje Miller of CEH, a co-author of the report. “Current regulations allow companies to hide the fact that they are poisoning us with these chemicals under a claim of ‘trade secret.’ This is unacceptable, and leads to serious health risks, especially to pregnant women and children.”

The chemicals used in fracking operations, from extraction to processing, distribution, transport and waste disposal, can pollute surrounding air and water. These harmful chemicals pose serious health risks to surrounding communities, and in particular to pregnant women and children. Just some of the harmful substances commonly used in fracking include methane, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes), arsenic, radium, ozone, formaldehyde, radium, radon, nitrogen oxides, methylene chloride and silica sand. These substances are associated with low birth weight, birth defects, respiratory problems, cancer and fertility problems.


According to New York State Sen. Tony Avella, "More and more individuals are starting to realize that hydrofracking is an extremely dangerous drilling practice and its effects, both known and unknown, are too dangerous to not have a comprehensive and transparent health impact analysis. There have been a variety of illnesses associated with residents living near hydrofracking sites, such as loss of smell, memory problems, headaches, respiratory illness and stillbirths. This is why an impact study remains paramount in determining the effects of hydrofracking prior to even considering allowing fracking in our State. I commend the Center for Environmental Health for releasing this important report which further focuses on health effects on mothers and children as a direct result of hydrofracking. The evidence is simply overwhelming against this dangerous practice. I will therefore continue to advocate for the State of New York to heed these warnings.”

Fracking has also been found to alter the social fabric of the communities where it occurs. The process increases road traffic, which increases stress, injuries and fatalities. Fracking also causes industrial noise, which is correlated with hypertension, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, stroke, increased aggression, depression and cognitive impairment. Fracking has also caused social disruption, and has been correlated with increases in sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse and violent crime.

“Nurses are deeply concerned about the irreparable harm fracking inflicts upon the people and communities in their care,” said Kathy Curtis, LPN, Board Member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Environmental damage, diseases and disorders and negative social impacts are just part of the problem. What we don’t hear much about is another chemical industry dirty little secret: much of the fracked gas will supply cheap energy and feedstock to make yet more toxic chemicals. Further, our communities will be irrevocably contaminated, not to provide inexpensive home heating as has been advertised, but to ship the gas to China.”

"Fetuses and children are disproportionately vulnerable to the deleterious effects of exposure to environmental toxicants,” said Dr. Sheila Bushkin, MD, MPH. “Although health impacts from industrial chemicals already exist in our population, the magnitude of risk would be greatly increased if High-volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) is permitted within the state of New York. Exposure to industrial chemicals and to ionizing radiation cause greater injury during development and early life. This may result in greater likelihood of birth defects, cognitive and behavioral development and lifelong disabilities. Likewise, environmental exposures to these substances, place pregnant women at greater risk from complications of gestation, resulting in increased maternal illnesses and mortality. From an ethical point of view, it is the responsibility of the medical community and legislative leaders to protect the health of the people of New York State and future generations. The first step would be to conduct a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment, prior to permitting the onset of HVHF activities within this beautiful state."

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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