Child Development
What’s Environmental Health? Dr. Leo Trasande explains this and more!

What’s Environmental Health? Dr. Leo Trasande explains this and more!

March 12, 2023

We’re lucky to have incredible resources in our board members and advisers here at Healthy Child. In an effort for you to get to know them, too, we’re starting a series of Q&As with them, which we will post from time to time. In our first installment, we welcome one of our newest board members, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, Associate Professor in Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine and Health Policy at NYU School of Medicine.

Dr. Trasande came to the world of environmental health by getting a masters in public policy with his medical degree and by working for then-Senator Clinton as a legislative fellow, advising her on children’s and environmental issues. He recognized “a great opportunity to have impact on children’s lives through this field where I could potentially help prevent disease on a larger scale across the world.” This snowballed into the career he has now as a widely recognized leader in environmental pediatrics.

He’s also happens to be the father of two boys, 4 and 3. “They’re lovely kids and I learn a lot,” he says. “Having kids as a pediatrician is often like a second residency.”

We asked him a few questions. If you have additional ones, please post them and we’ll follow up.

So what is environmental health?

Defining our field is often the major challenge of our field! It can be all encompassing—not only exposures to synthetic chemicals, it can go as broadly as impacts of climate change to the physical environment that influences children’s physical activity, diet, and ultimately obesity as well as other health outcomes.

Are people starting to pay more attention to the link between the environment and human health?

Yes. There are multiple drivers. There has been progress in improving medical curricula and research. Second, parents are presenting these concerns to their pediatricians and asking for answers with greater frequency and consistency. The third is the power of the purse. People are acting with their wallets and buying products that don’t have environmental contaminants and reducing their exposure. This creates a significant market force.

Where should parents wanting to raise healthy kids begin?

Start with some of the Healthy Child Easy Steps. Focus on the leading environmental issues we understand he most about. Lead is terribly important. And you can reduce your intake of fish contaminated with methylmercury while still eating the good omega-3s so critical for brain development.

Do you work with kids on a daily basis?

Yes. I see general pediatric patients in a faculty group practice at Bellevue Hospital. I also see children who were exposed to the World Trade Center disaster and have ongoing health concerns. The rest of my week is largely research development, writing papers, doing analysis, and planning future projects. While I enjoy clinical pediatrics, what wakes me up in the morning is the sense that I have the capacity to influence larger social changes to improve children’s lives.

Does caring about environmental health mean you have to be a rich or a scientist? Or both?

You don’t need a PhD in chemistry or a millionaire’s salary to identify and protect your children from environmental hazards. There are safe and simple steps we can take, like avoiding lead and mercury exposure. You don’t have to spray pesticides in your house. You can open your windows every few days to get rid of organic chemicals and dust and mold.

To read more about Dr. Trasande’s work, visit his website.