Dr. Sam Myers, Research Scientist in the Department of Environmental Health, and others have published an important framework paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal entitled Human Health Impacts of Ecosystem Alteration. This paper was written by members of the HEAL (Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages) consortium and introduces an important new branch of environmental health focused on characterizing the health impacts of anthropogenic alterations in the structure and function of Earth’s natural systems.
Human activity is rapidly transforming most of Earth’s natural systems. How this transformation is impacting human health, whose health is at greatest risk, and the magnitude of the associated disease burden are relatively new subjects within the field of environmental health. We discuss what is known about the human health implications of changes in the structure and function of natural systems and propose that these changes are affecting human health in a variety of important ways. We identify several gaps and limitations in the research that has been done to date and propose a more systematic and comprehensive approach to applied research in this field. Such efforts could lead to a more robust understanding of the human health impacts of accelerating environmental change and inform decision making in the land-use planning, environmental conservation, and public health policy realms.