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Children at risk from environmental influences

Update: March, 13/2013 - 10:12

HCM CITY (VNS)— Foetuses and children are particularly vulnerable to environmental agents, paediatricians warned at a workshop held in HCM City late last week.

Dr Pham Thi Minh Hong of the HCM Medical University listed the air, chemicals, and social and biological factors among the agents.

Pollution of the air by toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide from motorbike exhaust and lead, which are absorbed by children, could be harmful to their brain and respiratory system, she said.

Lead exposure during infancy and childhood could cause attention problems, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, reduced IQ, poor school performance, aggression, and delinquent behaviour, she said.

Children could be exposed to lead through leaded petrol and paint, traditional medicines, toys, and water and soil containing lead, she said.

Her study on lead concentration in blood in children in Dong Nai Province and HCM City showed that of 109 children under 10 in Dong Nai's Dong Mai village, all had more than 10 microgrammes of lead per decilitre.Of them, 27 per cent had more than 45 microgrammes.

Lead levels of more than 5 microgrammes are armful, according to the US's Centers for Disease Control.

In HCM City, she studied 300 children aged under 15 at the City Paediatric Hospital No.2. Of them, 7 per cent had more than 10 microgrammes, with two kids having 41 microgrammes.

Hong said children who breathe polluted air easily contract respiratory tract infections and asthma.

Parents should also pay attention to air inside the home, she said, pointing out that it plays a major role in respiratory health, causing asthma and allergies among others.

Indoor air is polluted by chemicals in smoke, gas exhaust, cleaning sprays, and biological allergens like pollen dust mites, pet dander, mould, and mildew.

A test she did for allergic asthma on 153 children with asthma aged two to three at the Paediatric Hospital No.2 last year showed that 58 per cent were vulnerable to triggers at home including dust mites, animal dander, cleaning sprays, and mildew.

Many of these children's families also burn incense, have people smoking, live near highways or industrial parks, and using stoves without chimneys to absorb smoke from the stove, Hong said.

Noise also has an influence on children's health, she said.

Some toys producing noise exceeding the limit of 70 decibels could be harmful to children's hearing and cause stress, she said.

For instance, 85 decibels of sound is generated by cell phone toys, more than 87 decibels by toy guns, and 94 decibels by toy robots.

Parents should be careful in choosing toys for their children, she said.

Dr Kieu To Quynh of the American Academy of Paediatrics said parents should buy stimulating toys for early brain development.

They should also be suitable for a child's age, she said.

Hong also referred to the harm caused by the sun on children.

Children, especially infants, need a maximum of 30 minutes of sunlight a week to make enough vitamin D, she said.

But the sunshine between 10am and 4pm could cause skin cancers because of the ultraviolet rays they produce. With children having underdeveloped and thinner skins compared to adults, the UV rays easily penetrate the protective melanin layer.

Maternal disorders

Maternal disorders directly or indirectly affect foetuses' and neonates' well-being and may impact later childhood development, Dr Steven Ringer of the US's Harvard Medical School told the workshop.

For instance, if the mother is depressed after birth, the new-born could have increased cortisol and neorpinephrine levels, she said.

Elevated levels could persist for years and impact growth and development, lowering IQ and reducing mathematics skills, and causing attention problems.

Children affected by mother's depression could be more prone to violence or anti-social behaviour, she added. — VNS

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