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Your Environment. Your Health.

News Releases

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Wednesday, June 1, 2005, 12:00 a.m. EDT
Contact: Christine Bruske, NIEHS
Robin Mackar, NIEHS

NIEHS Brings Researchers and Leaders Together to Find Environmental Solutions to Childhood Obesity

Washington, DC - National and community leaders join researchers today to sort out how a child's environment increases the risk for obesity and to identify ways the environment can be changed to address this health epidemic. More than 700 people will gather for a two-day conference, "Environmental Solutions to Obesity in America's Youth" sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health.

"We all know that eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of physical activity will help kids maintain a healthy weight. But how can kids make the right choices if they live in communities where they can't walk to school or play in a park because of distance, traffic, or crime?" asks Dr. David Schwartz, director of NIEHS.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Lynn Swann, former professional football star and current Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Surgeon General Richard Carmona, will join Schwartz at the conference to:

  1. Learn more about how the environment impacts childhood obesity rates.
  2. Build on promising programs to create safe, healthy communities that help kids make healthy choices.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who started the Healthy Arkansas initiative while losing 110 pounds, will be the closing keynote speaker.

"The ultimate goal is to create environments that help stem the obesity epidemic," said Schwartz. "This means shaping communities that promote healthy food choices and safe places to run and play." In the last three decades, obesity has doubled among preschoolers and adolescents and tripled among kids between the ages of 6 and 11.

The NIEHS is working to determine how the environment affects obesity. Throughout the conference, researchers, policy makers, community and transportation planners, builders, architects, teachers and school administrators, industry, non-profit, medical and health care personnel, and national, state and local leaders will fully explore how they can work together to find environmental solutions to America's childhood obesity problem.

Government and community leaders will share their success stories. Speakers from such organizations as Latino Health Access and California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness will discuss how they developed culturally appropriate environmental solutions to obesity in minority communities. North Carolina's Division of Public Health will showcase Eat Smart Move More...North Carolina, a statewide initiative promoting increased opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating through policy and environmental change.

Representatives from Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina transportation organizations will discuss how they improved children's health by making walking and bicycling to school safer, easier and more enjoyable.

Researchers from the National Center for Smart Growth, Louisiana State University, and Emory University will share their research and insights on how to effectively find and assess the connection between the environment and obesity.

Industry will also be part of the discussion. Sesame Street will join a panel discussion with Pepsico, Sony Computer Entertainment, Stonyfield Farm, child advocacy organization Children Now, youth fitness program Girls on the Run, and child health experts on the role industry and media can play in lowering childhood obesity rates.

Youth exercise and dance programs, including the Belvoir Steppers, a stomp-dance and drumming group from Fort Belvoir, VA, will be featured at the evening reception. New videogame-based exercise programs from Sony and Powergrid Fitness will also be demonstrated.

More information about NIEHS is at See the conference web site. Funding for the conference is provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Day Care Settings are a Significant Source of Indoor Allergens

Researchers studying day care facilities in the South have found the facilities to be a significant source for indoor allergen levels. A new study of 89 day care settings in two central North Carolina counties found detectable levels of seven common allergens from fungus, cats, cockroaches, dogs, dust mites, and mice in each facility tested. The levels were similar to those found in Southern homes.

"Because children spend a significant portion of time in day care settings, it is important that parents understand the risks of allergen exposure and know where these allergens can be found," said David A. Schwartz, M.D., the new Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the part of the National Institutes of Health that supported the study. The study will be available online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology on June 1.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63 percent of children under five spend 37 hours per week in child care. Exposure to indoor allergens has been shown in previous studies to increase the likelihood of developing asthma or allergic diseases, especially in vulnerable children.

Both licensed family day care homes and child care centers are represented in the study. The researchers used a three-pronged data collection approach to evaluate allergens in each care facility, including administering a questionnaire to each manager, observing the room where the children spent most of their time, and collecting dust samples from that room.

Dust was collected from up to four, one square meter areas of floor on both carpet and hard surfaces. Twenty facilities had dust collected from both surfaces.

Detectable levels of each allergen were found in every facility where dust samples were collected. Concentrations were the highest for allergens from cats, dogs, and a fungus known as Alternaria.

"Interestingly, similar to other studies, dog and cat allergens were detected in nearly all the facilities tested, although no dog or cat was observed in most," said, Samuel Arbes, Ph.D., a NIEHS researcher and lead author on the study. "It is likely the pet allergens are brought in on the children's clothing."

The study also found significant differences between carpeted and non-carpeted surfaces. Concentrations for five of the allergens were lower on the non-carpeted surfaces.

The researchers compared the day care allergen levels to concentrations found in Southern homes collected previously as part of the National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing (NSLAH). The NSLAH collected samples from 831 homes representing various regions and settings across the country. Five of the seven allergen levels were statistically similar with only one of two dust mite allergens and mouse allergen being slightly higher in the NSLAH.

"The similarities in allergen levels between the day care centers and Southern home living rooms means children and the day care workers may be getting prolonged exposure to allergens," said Dr. Arbes. "More research needs to be conducted to determine the effects of allergen exposures outside of the home." NIEHS, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information about indoor allergens and other environmental health topics, please visit our website at (

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