According to a study in Epidemiology published in January of this year, the number
of newly diagnosed cases of autism in California children rose over six-fold,
from 205 new cases in 1990 to 3,000 in 2006.1 Food allergies among chil-
dren are becoming much more common and serious, as is asthma.
Newly diagnosed eczema cases in the U.S. increased 6.7-fold from
1977 to 20062 and rose 42 percent from 2001 to 2005 in the U.K. 3
One in four children is now overweight or obese, and the num-
ber of children and teenagers with diabetes is rising sharply.
What is driving these trends?
Many scientists are beginning to suspect some causes
are linked to what we eat and are exposed to
very early in life through food, water and
air—with pesticides posing more and
more of a proven risk. In fact, the
list of health problems for which
pesticide exposure has emerged
as a risk factor overlaps almost
perfectly with the list of health
problems that have risen most
sharply in the last decade.
Given our medical advances
and record-high health care expen-
ditures, coupled with decades of
progress in cleaning up the air and
water, why does it seem to be getting harder to raise
a healthy kid in America?
There are three plausible answers. First, maybe it really isn’t. Perhaps epidemi-
ologists have gotten better at collecting health statistics, and in fact, kids today
are no more or less healthy than those 20 years ago. A number of studies in the
last few years have explored this possibility in trying to explain steeply rising rates
of autism, asthma, eczema, and childhood allergies. Virtually all conclude that the
increases are, for the most part, real.