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Harmful physical and social environments

Preventing pollution, promoting healthy communities

Imagine a world where

  • People make healthy food choices in accord with sound science—and lead longer, happier lives
  • Substances that threaten our environment and health are less prevalent in the air we breathe, the water we drink, our homes, and our workplaces
  • Smoking, violence, and alcohol abuse no longer threaten health in the U.S. and beyond

Where DNA meets daily life

Some of the world’s biggest health challenges emerge as a result of a complex combination of factors. Genetics, poverty or relative affluence, choices we make about how we live our lives, even the physical and social spaces where we live and work—all can play role. Chronic conditions like heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers—not to mention public health crises like gun violence and suicide—are just some of the problems that can be caused and sometimes controlled by human actions.

As chronic diseases sweep through rich and poor countries alike, they are straining already over-extended health systems. These diseases—many of them tied to obesity and overweight, many tied to pollution—will take a staggering economic toll of $47 trillion on the world economy over the next two decades. And unless we take action, they are expected to kill 52 million people a year by 2030. That’s roughly the population of England. It is the equivalent of about 285 jumbo jets crashing each and every day.

Our faculty and students are in the vanguard of efforts to thwart this catastrophe, working to change individual behavior and to understand and address the big picture: both the physical causes of disease and the effects of toxic social and emotional environments, which can give rise to violence and a host of mental and other health problems.