Health is wholeness. It’s a concept that cannot apply solely to an individual since people and other beings have always lived within families, communities, ecosystems, and planetary-level conditions. The health of any part or the whole of this nested set of relationships is dependent on diverse, dynamic interactions among them all. Ecologic models of health attempt to portray this multi-level complexity.
Environmental health is the field of public health focused on how chemicals, toxins, and other factors that people encounter every day impact health and how those impacts can be lessened. Everything someone eats, drinks, breathes, touches, sees, and experiences in their daily life affects their health. The goal of environmental health scientists and researches is to make those exposures and interactions more beneficial and less harmful.
Environmental health professionals look at exposures that may be hazardous to human health and determine how and why they affect health. The next step is to share that information widely so that people know what to avoid and how to they can make healthier decisions for themselves, their families, and the communities in which they live.
Environmental health is more than just how what people eat, drink, breathe, and come in contact with impacts health. There are many other facets to consider. Some of these are how we are exposed, how those exposures impact our genes, and what legal and policy implications might exist.
We are exposed constantly to different types of environments. Some of those environments are supportive of health, such as nature. Others can be detrimental to our health, such as chemical contaminants.
A term coined in 2005 by Dr. Christopher Wild to encompass the totality of what we’re exposed from conception throughout life is the “exposome.” The human exposome is seen as the complement to the human genome. This concept supports using a systems approach to health (also known as an ecological model of health) because everything in the exposome interacts with everything else, creating a complex web of factors contributing to health or to disease. Gene-environment interactions are also part of this system.
Understanding how exposures can impact health has many components. Please know we are working to create a research summary highlighting concepts such as routes of exposure, why children aren’t little adults, critical windows of development, fetal origins of adult disease, biomonitoring and other science-based information related to exposures. In the meanwhile, you can find helpful some helpful explanations through the US Environmental Protection Agency’s resources on children’s exposures and toolbox for exposures.
The following information is provided by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment