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Inheriting a sustainable world? Atlas on children’s health and the environment

In 2015, 26% of the deaths of 5.9 million children who died before reaching their fifth birthday could have been prevented through addressing environmental risks – a shocking missed opportunity. The prenatal and early childhood period represents a window of particular vulnerability, where environmental hazards can lead to premature birth and other complications, and increase lifelong disease risk including for respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The environment thus represents a major factor in children’s health, as well as a major opportunity for improvement, with effects seen in every region of the world.

Children are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, because it is children who will inherit the legacy of policies and actions taken, and not taken, by leaders today. The third SDG, to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” has its foundation in children’s environmental health, and it is incumbent on us to provide a healthy start to our children’s lives. This cannot be achieved, however, without multisectoral cooperation, as seen in the linkages between environmental health risks to children and the other SDGs. This publication is divided by target: SDGs 1, 2 and 10 address equity and nutrition; SDG 6 focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); SDGs 7 and 13 call attention to energy, air pollution and climate change; SDGs 3, 6 and 12 look at chemical exposures; and SDGs 8, 9 and 11 study infrastructure and settings.