At the Margins and in Deep: the need to prioritize equity for children’s environmental health

by Tara Zupancic

hands3Children lead complicated lives. They are profoundly shaped by their environment and yet, simultaneously, have little control over it. Their food, home, school, neighborhood and play spaces set a critical cast for their well-being and they depend on the collective vision of grown-ups for how it all pans out.   If it takes a village to raise a child, what is the legacy we have created in Canada?

Rearch documents a pocketed patchwork of better and worse places to grow up.  So while healthy housing and enriching outdoor spaces tend to co-exist in some neighborhoods, substandard housing, poor air quality, industrial effluents and limited green-space are frequently knotted together in others (see Buzzelli, 2008). With 1 in 10 Canadian children living in poverty (1in 4 for First Nations children) it is not hard to imagine which children are most vulnerable (see Campaign 2000). Socioeconomic status matters and the austere reality is that poor children often endure more intense and chronic environmental health burdens than others due to a clustering of environmental hazards and a deprivation of social supports where they live.

While it’s obvious that not all villages are created equal, we are short on analysis into the socioeconomic forces that fortify environmental inequities in Canada (see review by Masuda, Zupancic et al, 2008).  As a consequence, the lived realities of children who are deepest in risk, and carrying the heaviest health burdens, remain in the shadows.  Without visibility or voice they face further risk of marginalization instead of prioritization – a state that undermines a genuine commitment to improving health equity in Canada.  Our new project: Knowledge Leaders in Children’s Environmental Health is a pilot training program that places equity front and centre of environmental health challenges by prioritizing the knowledge, experience and expertise of communities who bear the brunt of environmental disparities.  The goal of the program is to build relationships and support collaborative action among research, policy, and community leaders to improve the health of all Canadian children. (link to full story)