There is mounting concern about the effects of early-life exposure to chemical substances on children’s health and development. We summarize the past and ongoing birth cohort studies carried out worldwide on the association between environmental exposure and children’s health. Our PubMed search with the keywords ‘birth cohort’ revealed that the number of articles jumped from 200–300 in the 1980s to over 1,000 in the 1990s. Many of these articles reported elevated risks to children’s health posed by chemical exposure owing their vulnerability. At the same time, policies implemented to reduce exposure to lead and dioxins were successful in the past few decades. Research also demonstrated that intervention to reduce exposure to certain chemicals whose exposure routes were well documented was also successful. We summarize the effects of early-life exposure to chemical substances on children’s health and development. Our findings will hopefully help safeguard the environment in which future generations grow and live.