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On Earth Day, the Public Health Institute Calls Attention to How the Environment Impacts Health

April 22, 2011

"The Public Health Institute (PHI) celebrates Earth Day today and emphasizes that efforts to protect the environment and advance environmental sustainability also contribute to public heath."Clean water and air, safe food and healthy ecosystems are all prerequisites to building healthy communities," said Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of PHI. "Consider the child in Oakland who suffers asthma attacks because of the air pollution in her neighborhood or the community in India that will experience increased malnutrition if climate change disrupts local agricultural systems. Both scenarios remind us that environmental conditions are powerful determinants of health."

PHI fosters research to increase understanding and awareness of how the environment impacts health and promotes evidence-based interventions to prevent and address these impacts. PHI programs empower communities to advocate for policies that can improve environmental conditions that are the root cause of many diseases. Examples of these efforts include the following:

  • PHI's Center for Public Health and Climate Change provides a comprehensive resource for public health professionals, environmental organizations and the broader community to understand and respond to the critical challenges posed by climate change to health. PHI recently named Cristina Tirado, DVM, MS, PhD, as the new director of the center. Under Tirado's leadership, the center will focus on fostering innovative leadership capacity, developing new alliances across sectors and sparking change within the public health system and beyond.
  • PHI principal investigator Paul English develops state-of-the art geospatial mapping to identify communities in California that are particularly vulnerable to adverse health outcomes in the event of heat waves and extreme heat events. This can inform policy decisions and planning efforts as localities seek to address the potential impacts of climate change. English works for the California Environmental Public Health Tracking Program and collaborates closely with PHI's Center for Public Health and Climate Change.
  • PHI's Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP) program engages in policy advocacy to reduce environmental asthma triggers. Current activities focus on improving indoor and outdoor air quality through emissions reductions, improved land use decisions and addressing issues of substandard housing. RAMP director Anne Kelsey Lamb recently published an article in Family & Community Health describing RAMP's successful collaborative advocacy strategy to reduce diesel pollution in Bay Area African-American and Latino communities disproportionally affected by asthma.
  • PHI principal investigator Barbara Cohn at PHI's Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) conducts groundbreaking cross-generational research on environmental exposure to chemicals. CHDS oversees an ongoing longitudinal study that began more than 50 years ago to study the factors influencing healthy pregnancy and child development. Approximately 15,000 pregnant women enrolled between 1959 and 1967. A current five-year study, entitled Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer Across Generations, will follow the daughters and granddaughters of these women to determine whether prenatal exposure to the chemical compounds known as DDT and PCBs increased the risk of breast cancer in subsequent generations. A previous CHDS study found that mothers exposed to DDT before the age of 14 were five times as likely to develop breast cancer if they also had high levels of DDT in their blood during pregnancy.