Baden Württemberg

ÖGD - Öffentlicher Gesundheitsdienst

ÖGD - Öffentlicher Gesundheitsdienst

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Housing + Children’s Health 

 Deutsche Version

A healthy living environment is especially important for children. Environmental impacts and living conditions play a central role in their physical and mental development (WHO, 2006). They are particularly sensitive to environmental stresses, for example respiratory diseases due to damp dwellings (ENHIS, 2009):  On the one hand, they may be exposed to higher pollution levels than adults. By "hand-to-mouth contact" and while playing on the floor they can ingest higher amounts of harmful substances such as plasticizers (phthalates), for example via intake of house dust (KUS, 2004). The breathing rate of children is higher than of adults, causing that more of the pollutants or allergens get to their lungs. On the other hand, in certain phases of development kids react particularly sensitive to toxic effects of chemicals. In the development of organs, there are certain "windows of susceptibility" (Schneider, 2002; EEA, 2002). Toddlers are particularly sensitive to lead and mercury (Wilhelm, 2010; HBM Commission, 1999). They are thus at special risk: they are a vulnerable group.

In Germany -  a social welfare state  - the chances of growing up healthy are divided extremely uneven. Children and adolescents are the age group being most frequently at risk of poverty (BMAS, 2008). Children in poverty often live in run-down accommo-dations, cramped, poorly equipped, in an environment with a lot of of traffic noise and pollution, few green spaces, and poor access to public transport (Caritas Europe, 2010). The Child and Adolescent Health Survey (KiGGS) - conducted by the Robert Koch Institute from 2003 to 2006 in Germany - provides a comprehensive health assessment: According to this, only 32% children and adolescents from families with low socio-economic status exhibit a very good general health status while 38% or 48% children from families with middle and high socio-economic status enjoy very good health, respectively. The poorer health status is reflected in less physical activity, greater overweight, more deficits in motor development, higher second-hand smoke exposure and much more (RKI, 2008). Particularly affected by such inequality are children from families with migration background. For example, they live significantly more often closer to busy roads (UMID 2, 2011; KIGGS, 2008).

Smoking in the presence of children is tantamount to an assault (DKFZ, 2004). Parents should create a smoke-free environment even before the birth of their children. Although, a healthy and appropriate environment for children requires more than that. The increased space requirements may induce a removal before the birth of a child, the renovation of the house or the complete refurnish of a room. In doing so, one should consider that emissions from paints, varnishes or new furniture can pollute the air. Infants are not able to evade such exposure, even less to provide a remedy. Often parents do not ventilate adequately in order to avoid heat losses or air draught. Thus, it may happen that, the air quality is worst in the children's room. For renovation, products which will not harm your health should be used. The eco-label "blue angel" points out low-emission construction products, paints and varnishes.

Living with children usually requires additional pieces of furniture: a changing table, a cradle, or an additional cabinet. If such things can not be acquired pre-owned, one should watch out that they pollute the air as little as possible. Children under three years most frequently meet with an accident at home. Therefore, the furniture should be solid and steady and should not exhibit sharp corners and protruding or small removable parts (the label “GS” certifies proven safety). Especially in the kitchen, bathroom and around stairs, all safety hazards are to be recognized and minimized. Once you get yourself on all fours, crawling through the house, you will discover and elimi-nate hazards quickly and easily. Tips to prepare a healthy and safe home for children are provided by the Federal Environmental Agency or Valuable tips for children can also be found at the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) assesses risks of toys and their ingredients. Nevertheless, parents can promote the health of their little ones without any charges, by allowing them to play outdoors as much as possible and run around to their heart’s content.


Further information

WHO, 2006: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease  "Children suffer a disproportionate share"   
WHO, 2004: Environmental burden of disease among Europe's children  
ENHIS, 2009: Children living in homes with problems of damp  
KUS, 2008: Child health - House dust sometimes polluted in Germany 
Wilhelm,  2010: Suspension of HBM values for lead in blood 
HBM-Commission, 1999: Substance monograph - mercury
Caritas Europe, 2010: Poverty of children and adolescents 
UBA, 2011: UMID 2, Special issue "Environmental justice"
DKFZ, 2004: Children exposed to secondhand smoke 
European Commission: Ensuring toy safety for consumers
BfR, 2011: Health assessment of toys
BfR, 2013: Protecting children from poisening
BMELV: Product safety
BMELV, 2008: Environment and health protection in children's room 
RKI, 2004: Health report of children's and adolescents's health    
KiGGS, 2008: Report regarding Children's Health in Germany "Erkennen – Bewerten – Handeln: Zur Gesundheit von Kindern und Jugendlichen in Deutschland"  
Schneider, 2002: Consideration of children as a risk group in the derivation of health-based environmental standards (APUG)  
EEA, 2002: Children's Health and Environment (European Environment Agency, WHO Regional Office for Europe) 
BMAS, 2008: (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales) Third report of poverty and wealth in Germany 
 Federal Government of Germany: Strategy for promotion of children's health 
WHO: Children's environmental health
CEHAPE: Healthier environments for children

Update 09/2013



Baden-Württemberg State Health Office
Dr. Karin Otzelberger
Phone +49 (0) 711 904-39655


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