Children are more vulnerable to adverse environmental factors than adults. Children from poor communities, who are predominantly children of color, are most vulnerable to adverse environmental factors and have fewer protective resources. This combination results in adverse health outcomes for the children and impacts their potential for the future. This scenario can be viewed as an intergenerational cycle of heath disparities. Although the scope of the problem is vast, positive changes can be made on small scales, which, collectively have a significant impact in reducing health disparities and promoting health equity for all children. We have developed a program called Break the Cycle of Children’s Environmental Health Disparities, which every year invites university students from different disciplines to develop projects that will break the cycle of children’s health disparities at any point in the conceptual cycle, with the purpose of influencing their career trajectory and cultivating future leaders. This annual program has been in operation for 16 years and has guided approximately 150 students. The impact of climate change on our planet, our societies and communities, disproportionately affects the same group of socially and economically vulnerable children and their families. We plan to adapt the Break the Cycle program to address the challenges of climate change for an already besieged generation of children who have experienced discrimination as a result of poverty and being children of color. This program will focus directly on students from colleges in vulnerable communities to explore the challenges posed by the impact of climate change in their own communities and develop strategies to address the impact of climate change on children and protect them from its impact. Through the adaptation of the Break the Cycle concept to Climate Change, we anticipate creating future leaders, who will guide our communities and societies in reducing climate change and protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Key Take Away Points

  • Children are uniquely sensitive and vulnerable to adverse social, economic, and environmental determinants of health.
  • Children from Black, Brown and Indigenous communities are more vulnerable because of the increased likelihood of poverty, greater likelihood of exposure to environmental pollutants, the added stress of Racism and the lack of quality education and access to quality health care
  • Climate change is a powerful environmental force that is indiscriminate in its manifestations, but children suffer more and children from poor communities of color suffer the most
  • We offer a way to engage and involve college and university students from HBCU’s, TCU’s and HACU's in the vulnerable communities to be creative in developing strategies to reduce the impact of climate change and to protect the most vulnerable children from the effects of climate exchange

Author Biography

I Leslie Rubin MD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, Co-director of the Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Unit (PEHSU) at Emory University, Medical Director of The Rubin Center for Autism and Developmental Pediatrics, and President of the non-profit, Break the Cycle of Health Disparities, Inc. In 2004, he started a program called Break the Cycle of Children’s Environmental Health Disparities, which promotes research on the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health and cultivates leadership for the future among university students from across the country and around the world. To date there have been 16 annual conferences with more than 150 papers published in 12 journal supplements and compiled into 12 books on Public Health. He is on a number of boards and councils including the Advisory Board of HERCULES, the Human Exposome Reach Center at Emory University, the Board of Scientific Counsellors at the US EPA focused on Sustainable Healthy Communities, is Chair of the National PEHSU Steering Committee and was recently appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters. Nse Obot Witherspoon MPH serves at the Executive Director for the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN). She is a leader in the field of children’s environmental health, serving as a member of the NIH Council of Councils, on the Science Advisory Board for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the External Science Board for the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) NIH Research work. She is a Co-Leader for Advancing the Science/Health initiative of the National Collaborative on a Cancer-Free Economy. Ms. Witherspoon is also a Board member for the Pesticide Action Network of North America, the Environmental Integrity Project, and serves on the Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Advisory Council. She has a variety of publications and has the distinct honor of having one of CEHN’s leadership awards, the Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award, named in her honor. She is also the recent recipient of the William R. Reilly Award in Environmental Leadership from the Center for Environmental Policy at American University and the Snowy Egret Award from the Eastern Queens Alliance. Nse Obot Witherspoon MPH is currently working closely with Leslie Rubin MD on developing the program Break the Cycle of Climate Change for Vulnerable Children.


Some of the time for Leslie Rubin MD in writing this paper was supported by the cooperative agreement award number 5 NU61TS000237-05 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Its contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The authors recognize Martha Berger, MPA, of the Office of Children’s Health Protection at the US Environmental Protection Agency, for her contributions to this paper and the concept behind it. Acknowledgement: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the PEHSU by providing partial funding to ATSDR under Inter-Agency Agreement number DW-75-95877701. Neither EPA nor ATSDR endorse the purchase of any commercial products or services mentioned in PEHSU publications.