• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

Growing Healthy Children vs. Healthy Grass

A child’s early care and education are critical to cultivating the leaders, thinkers, and inventors of tomorrow. Childcare centers around Iowa are primary contributors to the promotion of emotional and social development, enhancement of cognitive abilities, and encouragement of curiosity. These qualities stimulate the growth of creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, both of which are necessary to tackle issues such as protecting our water and air. We can prepare them to address these issues by reducing a child’s contact with harmful chemicals during development. By providing our children with the healthiest possible environment, we give them the potential to grow up as creative, innovative, and highly competent adults that can contribute towards building a better Iowa.

It is of utmost importance that we protect a child’s environmental health by reducing and eliminating their exposure to toxic chemicals as they are developing physically and mentally. By nature, children are curious and learn about their world in many different ways. This curiosity leads them to explore the world in a way that puts them at greater risk (crawling, putting objects in their mouth). Inadvertently, they are at greater risk of exposure to various toxins in pesticides, that we spray for largely aesthetic purposes. Long-term, chronic, exposure to pesticides have been linked to negative health outcomes in children, such as cancers, asthma, developmental delays and neurobehavioral issues (ADHD). If we want a healthy future for our children, we must provide them a healthy environment to play in, explore, enrich their curiosity, and by extension, their creativity.

Good Neighbor Iowa is a statewide program that has recognized the importance of early childhood development and has worked as a statewide leader for the past 3 years to protect children’s environmental health. Good Neighbor aims to reduce unnecessary urban pesticide use to protect our water quality, pollinators and our children. Homeowners, schools and childcare centers around Iowa have recognized that it is our job to protect our children from exposure to these chemicals by adopting safer alternatives. 60 childcare centers and 35 school districts in Iowa, with an approximate combined total of 20,000 children, have already pledged to make their mowed lawns and play areas pesticide-free. Additionally, around 1,300 residences around Iowa have pledged to not spray their lawns. The movement to protect our children’s environmental health is growing in Iowa.

As stated earlier, Good Neighbor understands and appreciates the vital role childcare centers play in the development of our children. Childcare centers around Iowa can show their dedication to protecting children's environmental health (and therefore a health development trajectory!) by pledging their childcare center as pesticide-free. This lawn care and pest management pledge, made specifically for childcare centers, can be found here.

For more information or questions, please visit our website or reach out to Good Neighbor Iowa at GoodNeighbor@uni.edu.

A note about the authors: Pratik Poudel and Leah Doyle are Environmental Science majors at the University of Northern Iowa and Program Assistants at Good Neighbor Iowa.

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