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Last Edited: 1/22/2008

Developmental Outcomes

Developmental outcomes refer to endpoints having to do with the development of a healthy fetus or child. Development (or formation) of all organ systems begins during early pregnancy and is complete for many systems by birth. However the nervous system (including the brain) continues to develop during childhood, as does the reproductive system. Thus developmental endpoints usually include pregnancy outcomes, such as birth defects and fetal growth, as well as developmental disabilities during childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or attention-deficit disorders (ADD). The timing and course of puberty is also of interest as it appears to be happening at younger ages. Recent research has shown that many adult disease conditions may also have their origin during fetal development or early childhood, so these are critical periods. The occurrence of adverse developmental outcomes is of fundamental concern to the individuals and families involved, who expect to have a healthy, normal child. This may be exacerbated if those affected perceive they are living or working in areas with potential exposure to hazardous agents over which they have little or no control. Animal studies and accidental mass releases have revealed a variety of effects from a number of chemical exposures, but relatively little research has been consistently conducted on these outcomes in humans until recently.

Due to the relatively short latency from exposure until some of the outcomes are manifested near birth, as well as the increased sensitivity of the developing fetus, these outcomes may serve as sentinels for identifying environmental hazards. If workers or community residents are protected from exposures that are harmful to the fetus or child, they will usually be protected from other health effects associated with these exposures. EHIB staff conduct a number of studies of developmental outcomes in relation to community concerns as well as initiating research on suspected toxicants. These include for example, studies of effects of exposure to water chlorination by-products, environmental tobacco smoke, solvents, and hazardous air pollutants; on outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, autism and pubertal development. EHIB currently houses the CA Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE), which conducts surveillance of autism to try to get accurate counts of its occurrence as well as a variety of research into possible causes. EHIB staff are also conducting environmental health tracking projects that involve linking data on developmental endpoints (low birthweight, infant death, SIDS, and autism) to data on environmental exposures (air pollutants, pesticides) in specific geographic areas.


  • Health Problems
  • More specific:   Autism



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