Green Pediatrics

What does it mean to be a “green” pediatrician?


I’ve recently been dubbed a “green” pediatrician by the Queen-of-Green, Deirdre Imus, whom I serve as a medical advisor at the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center in New Jersey. I took it as the compliment it was intended to be, but I also considered that the phrase might mean different things to different people. The term “green” is generally meant as an environmentally-conscious label. Green products are considered safe for the environment and healthier for people who use them. Are green doctors the same? I think so. A central tenet of integrative practice is mindfulness about the effect the environment has on health and wellness, and about the effect health care has on the environment. An example is the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, the nation’s first completely green women and children’s hospital. It’s actually a healthy environment for sick and well folks – which can’t be said about most hospitals. From providing organic food choices to using non toxic cleaning agents, HUMC is certainly green.

But to be a green doctor, I think, also means adopting holistic, “whole child” philosophies central to healing practice. Respecting and communicating with patients, collaborating with CAM therapists, recognizing the importance of mind-body connections, using natural resources for healing, and of course, working with children within the context of families and communities are key components of being green.

The community aspect is so important. We do not exist in isolation, and we have an obligation to advocate for the sake of our most precious natural resource, our children. And as Kermit said, sometimes it’s not easy being green. Even as I write this, I’m embroiled in a local environmental “situation”– working with parents and teachers at a school for autistic children who may have been exposed over recent years to a variety of neurotoxic industrial waste products. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand up for the kids, even when “the authorities” and medical establishment may not agree, or worse, actively work against the truth. I’m not saying this is the situation in Northvale; in fact, this is an opportunity for all of us to work together for the community’s benefit. I am cautiously optimistic that this is the way it’ll go. But I can tell you this – the parents of these children won’t let it turn out any other way. And I’m honored to work with them.

I’ll leave you with a relevant section from a recent interview I did for WebMD:

“There’s still definitely a gap between what we know to be true scientifically and what we theoretically think is true, but either way, avoiding even potentially damaging compounds, particularly in young babies, can never be a bad thing, and it simply makes good common sense,” says Rosen, section chief of the division of pediatric integrative medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center and medical advisor to Deirdre Imus Center for Pediatric Oncology.

Moreover, he says that while we may have less evidence of the good that “going organic” can accomplish, we do have very strong evidence of the kind of harm that is being done via nonorganic living.

“There are advantages to doing something, and then there are also risks and costs to not doing it. And certainly, there are theoretical environmental compounds or toxins that have negative health consequences, either leading to cell damage or cell death or down the road, cancer, heart disease, and neurological changes,” says Rosen.


  1. Many consumers and physicians have turned a more curious eye to complementary medicines in recent years, as many natural products may offer the same benefit as standard medications without as many side effects. However, more clinical evidence based information is needed in this area.
    Elizabeth Henry
    Natural Standard Research Collaboration

  2. There is a bit more to becoming a green doc. Indeed, the importance of working in a healthy clinical environment is essential to green medicine. However, the term green also refers to advocating for a healthy environment. Your example of working with local communities about environmental toxicants is just such an example. There is ample clincial evidence as the to hazards of industrial chemicals that continue to poison our children. The Pediatric Environmental Toolkit created by Physicians for Social Responsibility is a training program for pediatricians to learn the skills necessary to recognize environmental illness in a busy practice.
    Green medicine also requires a shift in the practice of medicine itself, which can certainly emphasize sustainability. Wellness and prevention is more sustainable the traditional hospital based medicine. Again, there is a mountain of evidence that proves that prevention is cheaper and more cost effective then pharmacological and hospital based interventions. Prevention and wellness, as well as complementary practices can be more evenly distributed because the emphasis is not on technological diagnosis, rather,the promotion of personal responsiblity for sustaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes community health as well.
    Our medicines and medical approaches have a deep and lasting impact on the earth. The green doc fully integrates his or her practice with an awareness that medicine can be both good for people and the environment.
    Joel Kreisberg
    Teleosis Institute

  3. I agree with Joel’s point whole-heartedly. The Teleosis Institute, for those who don’t know, supports the development of ecologically sustainable health care practices. I think very relevant to this discussion is the Teleosis concept of practicing “sustainable medical care.” This is from their web site:
    Practice Sustainable Medical Care
    Ecologically Sustainable Medicine (ESM) advances medicine with environmental integrity by offering affordable and renewable medical choices—saving resources and money—while preserving the health of the environment.
    The practice of sustainable medical care necessitates fundamental changes in the delivery of medicine. Whether practicing family medicine, oncology, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, psychotherapy, or any other medical technique, providers emphasize prevention, precaution, efficacy and wellness in their daily practice. As a result, the delivery of medicine becomes increasingly more sustainable.
    * Become aware of the environmental impact of conventional medicine.
    * Emphasize wellness in daily medical practice and choose ESM treatments first.
    * Recognize the importance of ecological health in medical ethics.
    * Promote the psychological and cultural benefits of sustainable medicine.
    A Green Health Care Professional

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