Why We Can and Should Focus on Autism Prevention

May 24, 2018

In light of the recent increase in autism from 1 in 68 to 1 in 59 children in just two years, a new video by scientist Bruce Lanphear it worth watching and sharing.

The video makes the case for preventing chronic diseases like autism rather than chasing down genes or finding cures. In “Cause or Cure. Is the relentless pursuit of a cure hazardous to our health?”, Dr. Lanphear says that more health and science dollars need to be directed to prevention. His approach to prevention is identifying environmental exposures that promote disease and then investing in removing these exposures.

In his argument, Dr. Lanphear notes that “most chronic diseases and disorders like cancer, heart disease and autism result in the interaction of environmental triggers like air pollution and our genetic make up.” He then says that “if we identify environmental triggers or causes and eliminate them we can prevent children from developing leukemia, autism and other diseases.”

Dr. Lanphear is a well respected and accomplished researcher on children’s health. Like SafeMinds, he is skeptical that a focus on genetics will lead to significant progress in solving the autism epidemic, stating, “this belief that genetic research and technology will solve our health problems is flawed. It fails to acknowledge that the worldwide epidemic of chronic disease is largely due to technologies of the past: tobacco, motor vehicles, air pollution, heavily processed foods and toxic chemicals.”

Regarding autism specifically, Dr. Lanphear explains, “Autism has risen dramatically over the past four decades. Our genes don’t change that quickly, so the rapid rise in autism is primarily due to environmental triggers. Yet we spend 96 percent of research dollars to identify genes linked in autism. Only four percent was spent to identify environmental triggers.”

Bruce Lanphear, MD, MPH is a clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute, BC Children’s Hospital and professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Areas of focus of his research include children’s environmental health, environmental neurotoxins, including lead, mercury, pesticides and environmental tobacco smoke, and gene-environment interactions.

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