Children's environmental health

Radiation

properly dressed baby

Radiation has always been a natural part of our environment. Natural radioactive sources in the soil, water and air contribute to our exposure to ionizing radiation, as well as man-made sources resulting from mining and use of naturally radioactive materials in power generation, nuclear medicine, consumer products, military and industrial applications.

Children are in a dynamic state of growth and are more susceptible to environmental threats than adults. For instance, in the case of sun exposure:

  • sun exposure during childhood and adolescence appears to set the stage for the development of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers in later in life
  • a significant part of a person’s lifetime exposure occurs before age 18
  • children have more time to develop diseases with long latency, more years of life to be lost and more suffering to be endured as a result of impaired health.

Children require special protection. Sun protection programmes are urgently needed to raise awareness of the health hazards of ultraviolet radiation, and to achieve changes in lifestyle that will arrest the trend towards more and more skin cancers. Beyond the health benefits, effective education programmes can strengthen national economies by reducing the financial burden to health care systems caused by skin cancer and cataract treatments.

By promoting research and providing recommendations for emergency medical and public health responses to radiation accidents and terrorist acts, and providing advice to national authorities, WHO enables national and local public health authorities to deal with radiation exposure issues effectively, facilitating key research programmes and providing sound advice. WHO is also engaged on international initiatives to promote radiation protection in the medical imaging of children.

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