The environment around us is a major determinant of our health and well-being. Clean air, water, and soil are all critical components to good health where prevention plays a key role. For example, ensuring a clean water supply prevents many infectious diseases, while enforcing clean air standards can help lower asthma rates. Engaging in sustainable agricultural practices (e.g., using less pesticides and artificial fertilizers) results in more nutrient-rich soil and healthier food. Moreover, efforts to maintain a clean environment has a positive impact on the earth itself, its inhabitants, and the public's health. Thus, great potential exists to form alliances between environmentalists trying to protect the earth and public health advocates trying to prevent disease.
Far more than air or water, the term environment is also "anything external to individuals shared by members of the community." Various aspects of the environment affect individual behavior. For example, environmental and policy changes have resulted in reductions of tobacco use, increases in seat belt use, and improved sanitation levels. According to the Institute of Medicine: "It is unreasonable to expect that people will change their behavior so easily when so many forces in the social, cultural, and physical environment conspire against change. If successful programs are to be developed to prevent disease and improve health, attention must be given not only to the behavior of individuals, but also to the environmental context within which people live." Moreover, an environmental approach has particular salience for improving health outcomes for individuals living in underserved communities.
Prevention Institute is working on several projects highlighting the different ways that the environment affects health, including the connection between sustainable agriculture and public health, improving community and school environments to encourage healthier eating and more physical activity, and how the built environment impacts health disparities in low-income neighborhoods. Attention to environmental influences on health permeates all of our work.