Toxicants and Children: Why Children Are More Susceptible

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  • 0:07 Children Are like Sponges
  • 1:27 Children Eat Everything
  • 2:21 Children Receive…
  • 3:53 Summary
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Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Despite their small size, children are more susceptible to environmental toxicants. In this video lesson, you will learn why toxicants often have greater effects on children than adults.

Children Are Like Sponges

We think of children as small versions of adults, so it may also make sense to think of them as being at a lower risk to toxicants and other harmful substances. However, quite the opposite is true. Children are actually more susceptible to toxicants and their effects than adults, mostly because of their small size.

Children are so much smaller than adults but still breathe the same air, eat the same foods and drink the same water. This means that they're getting a higher concentration of toxicant for their body weight than adults. Say you ingested a tablespoon of poison and a child ingested the same amount of poison. The effect would be much greater for the child because compared to their body size the amount of poison is much larger. The same is true for pollutants in the air, additives in food and toxicants in drinking water.

Children are also much more susceptible to the effects of toxicants because they're still developing both inside and out. Have you ever cut or scraped a part of your body? As it's healing, that part of the skin is soft and sensitive - it's growing back to replace what you damaged. The same is true for children - their bodies are constantly growing and developing and are more like the sensitive healing skin of your injury than the hard, weathered skin around it.

Children Eat Everything

Anyone who has been around children knows that they pick up things and then usually put those things in their mouths. Many toys and other objects they come in contact with are plastic, which is full of toxicants that can be harmful in high doses. One or two times of putting something in your mouth may not be so bad, but if you do it enough, those 'doses' add up to a substantial amount of exposure.

Not only are children putting all sorts of things in their mouths, but they are also processing the things that end up in their digestive system much quicker than adults. Because children's bodies are in that constant state of growth and development, their bodies are designed to maximize nutrient absorption from food. So, the quicker the body can extract what it needs from food, the quicker it can use it for growth. Unfortunately, when children put toxicants into their bodies, these get absorbed just as quickly as the good stuff.

Children Receive Greater Exposure

Just like the rest of their body, children's immune systems are also not fully developed. As an adult, you have been exposed to numerous threats to your health, and like a well-developed military, your body has built up a defense system against them. Children, however, are like a new country that's still building its army. Their bodies are still learning how to fight disease and may not be able to fight the effects of toxicants as well as adults.

Think about where children spend most of their time - near the ground! Babies crawl on the ground (which is where they pick up most of the objects that eventually end up in their mouths), and children are shorter than adults. Toxicants in treated carpets, floors and furniture are therefore much closer to their faces, where they breathe and eat. Toxicants in the air also tend to be closer to the ground, so children are more likely to breathe in polluted air than adults because they're at the same level.

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