Prenatal Environmental Health Education (PEHE) forum a success

Eric Crighton, PEHEOn November 20-21, 2014 the Prenatal Environmental Health Education (PEHE) Forum brought together prenatal health practitioners (family physicians, obstetricians, midwives, and nurses), policy makers, and environmental health experts (educators, researchers, students) from across Canada and the United States. The forum was hosted at the University of Ottawa and led by Dr. Eric Crighton, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography. Participants had the opportunity to share their expertise from biological, sociological, and practical perspectives and to begin building essential multidisciplinary partnerships with the aim of reducing prenatal and childhood exposures to environmental contaminants and improving children’s health.

CEHE was a collaborator and supporter of the forum, with Director Jeff Masuda speaking on the panel discussion: Addressing prenatal and children’s environmental health inequities in the context of socioeconomic, culture and community factors. His presentation, as well as those of other panelists and presenters, highlighted the importance of equity in prenatal environmental health, given the disproportionate exposures that children and families can face based on socioeconomic factors. Jeff suggested that the normative model of equity, which presumes that we should “fix” the conditions of the underprivileged, fails to recognize the impacts our lifestyles can have on the adverse conditions of others. He proposed that going forward we should have a “critical realist” view of inequity in which we take a relational approach, acknowledging the fact that where there is poverty there is privilege, and the privileged are often complicit in maintaining injustice for others. Advocacy is necessary for improving outcomes for all; the forum has prompted participants to work together to publish a joint statement about the need for healthcare providers to be involved in environmental health education.

The presentations and discussions at the forum also brought to light the injustice of placing the burden of decision-making on mothers who may not have the capacity to make changes, rather than on those in positions of power (e.g. policy-makers, landlords, industry). However, there is still a need for effective prenatal environmental health education, which requires improved intersectoral integration between health professionals and academics. There must also be a strong focus on knowledge translation so that the latest research is accessible to the general public. The forum coincided with the launch of Bruce Lanphear’s video about the effects of environmental toxins on children’s brains, Little Things Matter: The Impact of Toxins on the Developing Brain, which is a great example of effective knowledge translation.

The success of the event led to interest in hosting another PEHE Forum within the next few years. Details about rationale, collaborators and supporters, the program, slide presentations, and the post-forum report and recommendations are available on the PEHE Forum website: