Children’s Health

Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of pesticides. They face daily exposure to these toxic chemicals where they live, learn and play, at a time when their bodies are most susceptible to damage.

  • Boy Blowing DandelionPer pound, children eat over three times the food, drink two times the water, and breathe over two times as much air as adults. This means that in relation to their size, children receive higher doses of toxins like pesticides just from breathing air and consuming food and water.
  • The National Academy of Sciences landmark report titled, “Pesticides and the Diets of Infants and Children,” estimates that 50 percent of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life.
  • Children’s behaviors such as playing on the floor, rolling in the grass, and putting non-food items in their mouths facilitate the passage of pesticides into children’s bodies, which can lead to serious health effects.

To combat the impact of pests and pesticides on children’s health, we must use better methods for pest control that limit pesticide use, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Continue reading for: Asthma, Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities, Childhood Cancers


Asthma is a chronic, lifelong disease that is now the most common childhood disease in the U.S., with more than 7 million children affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • In some communities, 1 in every 4 children has asthma.
  • Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, accounting for an estimated 14.4 million lost school days.
  • Asthma caused 479,300 hospitalizations, 1.9 million emergency room visits, and 8.9 million doctors’ office visits in 2009 (the latest year for which statistics are available).
  • Asthma costs the United States over $56 billion dollars per year to treat and manage.

A growing body of evidence links pesticide exposure to the development of asthma:

  • A 2004 study conducted in California linking pesticide exposure in the first year of life to an increased risk of developing asthma by age 5 years old.

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists pesticides as one of four environmental pollutants that may influence the development of asthma and worsen symptoms.

Development Delays and Learning Disabilities

Studies show that children exposed to pesticides used in homes and for agricultural purposes early in life have a higher risk of developmental delays. A developmental delay is the condition of a child being less developed mentally or physically than is normal for his or her age.

  • Low-level exposure to agricultural pesticides in a developing fetus, infant, or young child can result in higher rates of learning disabilities and significant drops in IQ by age seven.
  • Low-level pesticide exposure has, also, shown links to disruption in the lymphatic system and hormones that facilitate regular growth and development.

The drawings below illustrate the outcomes of a study by Dr. Elizabeth Guillette of children living in Yaqui Valley, Mexico compared to children living above in the foothills of Tescopaco. The Yaqui Valley children showed symptoms of developmental delays due to their heavy exposure to pesticides when compared to the less exposed children in the foothills.

Figure 1. Representative drawings of a person by 4-year-old Yaqui children from the valley and foothills of Sonora, Mexico. Figure 1. Representative drawings of a person by 4-year-old Yaqui children from the valley and foothills of Sonora, Mexico. Figure 2. Representative drawings of a person by 5-year-old Yaqui children from the valley and foothills of Sonora, Mexico. Figure 2. Representative drawings of a person by 5-year-old Yaqui children from the valley and foothills of Sonora, Mexico.

These are pictures of people drawn by Yaqui children. Notice the incredible contrast in the representations performed by the lesser-exposed foothill children (left) and more-exposed valley children (right).

Other developmental problems linked to pesticide exposure include:

Autism: Many scientists suspect pesticides contribute to autism and other brain function maladies, because they are neurotoxins.

  • Rates have risen dramatically over the past 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 88 children—and 1 in 54 boys—fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.
  • Autism rates have risen 78 percent since 2002.

Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is another growing childhood disorder affecting brain function and behavior.

  • Studies suggest that ADHD and other neurological disorders may relate to a disruption in endocrine function caused by some pesticides. The endocrine system is key to the correct function of numerous systems within the body.

Endocrine system captioned

Childhood Cancers

Rates of some childhood cancers, particularly non-Hodgkins lymphomas, leukemia, and brain cancer, are on the rise.

  • A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics raised concerns about the link between pesticide exposure and childhood cancer, impaired neurological development, asthma, and endocrine disruption. Concluding statements by the Academy highlights that “the most comprehensive reviews of the existing literature implicate an association of pesticides with leukemia and brain tumors.”

Childhood cancer incidence graph

For More Information

Asthma, Pests and Pesticides: For information on asthma, pests, and pesticides. Learn More

The Truth About Head Lice: For information on head lice treatment options. Learn More

Keeping Kids Healthy: Read about our programs that keep children healthy where they live, learn and play. Learn More

Cancer: Learn more about how pesticides are associated with many types of cancer. Learn More

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