在週三的聯合國大會兒童會議中，玻利維亞的阿麗雅塔（Gabriela Azurduy Arrieta）呈遞兒童論壇的請願書給與會代表。（攝影：蘇珊‧馬其斯，版權歸屬：聯合國兒童基金會）
A major contributing factor to these diseases is malnutrition, which affects around 150 million children and undermines their immune systems.
Malnutrition and diarrhea form a vicious cycle. The organisms that cause diarrhea harm the walls of children's digestive tracts, which prevents them absorbing their food, causing even greater malnutrition - and vulnerability to disease.
Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of WHO. (Photo courtesy WHO)
"People are most vulnerable in their youngest years," said WHO director general Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. "This means that children must be at the center of our response to unhealthy environments."
The report warns that the public has little awareness of children's special vulnerability to environmental health risks. Klaus Toefer, UNEP's executive director, called for international action to raise awareness of the problem.
"I am convinced that we need to elevate children's environmental health issues on the international agenda, both through the General Assembly's special session on children and then the World Summit on Sustainable Development," said Toefer. "We should recognize that realizing children's rights and managing environmental challenges are mutually reinforcing goals."
The report calls for increased national investment in early child care, including focusing on the immediate environments of children, like homes, schools, and communities. One notable success in many countries is the transition to unleaded fuel, which helps eliminate lead from the environment.
Gabriela Azurduy Arrieta of Bolivia presents the recommendations of the Children's Forum to delegates at the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children on Wednesday. (Photo by Susan Markisz UNICEF)
Toefer added that he hoped the new study "will inspire everyone who cares about children to take decisive action that will improve both their health and the environment."
In the United States, a new bill was introduced Thursday that would increase federal research on hormone disrupting chemicals, among the most persistent and insidious environmental pollutants. Hormone disruptors are synthetic chemicals that block, mimic or otherwise interfere with naturally produced hormones that control how an organism develops and functions.
Since the 1970s, the incidence of childhood cancers, learning disabilities, autism, diabetes, early puberty, and abnormal penile development has skyrocketed. Evidence linking these disorders with exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals has continued to mount.
"What is especially troubling is that children are exposed to these chemicals in the womb and shortly after birth - periods of rapid development," said Dr. Theo Colborn, director of the World Wildlife Fund's wildlife and contaminants program.
Representative Louise Slaughter introduced a bill Thursday to fund studies of hormone disrupting chemicals. (Photo courtesy Office of the Representative)
Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, has sponsored the Hormone Disruption Research Act of 2002, which would authorize up to $500 million for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to conduct a five year research program on hormone disruption.
NIEHS would also be required to provide public reports on the extent to which hormone disrupting chemicals pose a threat to human health and the environment.
"This legislation is long overdue. Not one chemical in use today has been adequately tested for its ability to undermine the construction of children's bodies and brains," said Dr. Colborn. "There is an urgent need to support innovative research designed to identify hazards that traditional toxicology has missed."