Category: Environmental Health

Health Benefits of Going Green

House plants have always been a staple of many people interior and exterior design. Our fascination and attraction to greenery is long-ingrained in human history. However, new research is show that there may be serious health benefits to being exposed to greenery. A UCLA study has shown that increasing “greenness” in urban settings can improve mental health.

In addition to this, there are a number of other studies which suggest positive relationships between greenness and a number of disease outcomes, such as obesity, preterm birth outcomes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. These studies provide interesting and exciting glances into an emerging field, which highlights the importance of greenness and preserving natural landscapes. These things can improve public health, and likewise benefit our natural environment.

 

 

http://dailybruin.com/2019/04/09/ucla-study-suggests-spending-time-in-green-spaces-may-improve-mental-health/

https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Abstract/2017/11000/Interrelationships_Between_Walkability,_Air.4.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181932/

http://med.miami.edu/news/residential-blocks-with-greater-greenness-linked-to-lower-risk-for-alzheime/

 

 

 

 

old cemetery with tree

Thanos provided eco-friendly burials, here’s how mortals can do the same

As I prepare to see Avengers Endgame this weekend, I find myself reflecting on the last movie and the way so many died in Infinity War.  As I recall half of the population turning to dust, I remember the phrase we hear at funerals, “Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.”  Then my eternal optimist tendencies kick in and I think, “At least Thanos was eco-friendly,” to which my public health brain immediately adds “Are we being eco-friendly with our deceased loved ones?” While, this admittedly provides insight into the strangeness of my brain, this is a topic we really should speak about more.

As it turns out, no we’re not eco-friendly.  We’re polluting the environment with our dead.  In America alone, we’re burying 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concreted, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of copper and steel along with our loved ones. These embalming fluids can seep into the ground, and the plots themselves take up lots of room which is increasing land shortages in urban areas.  While cremation may be slightly more eco-friendly it still releases chemicals like carbon dioxide and mercury into the air, and uses enough fuel to fill a Toyata RAV4’s tank twice.

Luckily, there is an emerging market in green funerals.  With these burials, the deceased are placed in the ground without any preservatives and little or no additional coverings.  While this may bring up concerns about polluting ground water, the World Health Organization states that it is safe as long as the person is buried at least 820 feet away from a drinking water supply, 100 feet away from a body of water, 1 meter above the water table and 1 meter below the earth’s surface.  If you’re concerned about laws, no state requires embalming, and most will allow burial without a shroud.

So there you have it, you can be just as eco-friendly as Thanos if you’d like.

 

 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/smarter-living/green-funeral-burial-environment.html

 

https://www.businessinsider.com/burying-dead-bodies-environment-funeral-conservation-2015-10#cremation-is-not-much-better-5

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/10/how-to-be-eco-friendly-when-youre-dead/382120/

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bisnow/2017/11/03/urban-cemeteries-running-out-of-space-as-baby-boomers-enter-twilight-years/#4ed7aea9579c

 

http://essentialelements.naccho.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Environmental-Health-Implications-of-Green-Burials-K.-Koepenick-Balt-Co-DOH-11-7-18.pdf

Fear vs Hope: Appeals & Climate Change Communication

Communicating the health consequences of climate change can be challenging, especially when the audience is full of climate-deniers. In the field of climate change communication, there is often much debate over the usage of fear appeals vs. hope appeals. In the past, many campaigns have leaned towards using fear as a persuasive tactic. However, now, the tides seem to be shifting away from this. Yale University has researched climate communication on many fronts and finds that fear may actually lead to further pushback and disbelief of global warming.

At the same time, messages which lack realism on the severity of climate change are not found to resonate either. These messages often fail to generate interest or understanding in the importance of the issue, and often fail to inspire audiences to believe and/or take action on the issue.

Instead, the right communication tactic requires a perfect “cocktail” of emotion.  Behavioral scientists believe that these messages cannot be over-simplified into “fear” or “hope” appeals. Instead, each message should be thoughtfully tailored to the desired audience. And through this, Yale University offers a couple of important points to keep in mind through message development:

  • Connect with audience
  • Provide information at beginning
  • Address the concept of “urgency”
  • Be persuasive
  • Use credible messengers
  • Use opportunities well
  • Connect with viewer’s values and beliefs
  • Create a sense of “uniting and conquering.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/04/climate-fear-or-hope-change-debate

https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2012/01/helping-the-cause-or-making-enemies/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-017-0021-9?WT.feed_name=subjects_scientific-community-and-society

 

 

 

Allergies on the Rise Alongside Global Temperatures

It is becoming well-known that the impacts of climate change will extend far beyond environmental damages. Climate change is anticipated to affect many different aspects of human health. Infectious disease, temperature related illness and injury, and food safety are just a few areas which may be prone to yield serious consequences for human health. Within this, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change on health now.

Allergy season is upon us and is also vulnerable to on-going changes in our climate. It is understood that climate change is and will continue to affect air quality in a number of ways. These damages include increases in levels of regional ozone, particulate matter, and even allergen production. Rates of allergies have been on the rise – and while there are many theories as to why this may be, these rates have increased alongside rising temperatures. Increasing levels of CO2 and rising temperatures have been shown to amplify the allergenic effects of pollen and mold spores. Much of this is due to warmer temperatures, as it allows trees to be able to pollinate earlier in the season and for longer periods of time.

These events highlight the importance of supporting policy which acknowledges and addresses global warming as a threat. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is an issue of human health and quality of life. As we continue to see environmental changes and damages from climate change, we can expect to see continued impacts on human health.

 

 

https://health2016.globalchange.gov/

https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/climatechange/health_impacts/index.cfm

https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/climatechange/health_impacts/asthma/index.cfm

https://www.climatecentral.org/news/report-pollen-allergies-climate-change

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Actually Bad For Our Skin?

In today’s age, it’s hard to keep up with what things are good for our skin, bad for our skin, or don’t affect it at all. Skin care is tied into beauty, and thus many people are often searching for a “secret trick” or “hack”. Due to this, many different products and techniques have been recommended. Many of these approaches have are rumored to provide drastic improvements in one’s skin clarity, texture, and overall health. Alongside these claims, we see many people generating fear around certain exposures, and it’s important to examine what can actually harm our skin.

There are many negative things in our lives that can have unexpected side effects. Stress, for one, can play a large role in the health of one’s skin. Experiencing excessive stress can prompt new outbreaks or aggravate pre-existing conditions, like psoriasis, eczema and hives. As many already know, smoking is a habit with many negative health outcomes. However, few often attribute smoking to skincare, and are unaware of the damage it can cause. Nicotine reduces blood flow to one’s skin, and thus smoker’s often have skin which is more wrinkled, thin and less likely to heal if injured.

Alongside these negative factors, there are those which are a bit more complicated. UV rays – coming from sunshine – are a mixed bag. A little sunlight is good for you, it prompts one’s skin to make Vitamin D, which is essential to many bodily processes. However, without proper protection , sunlight can be extremely damaging to skin. Excess exposure to UV rays can cause mutations in your DNA, which can later lead to cancer. Because of this, it’s important to wear protective sunscreen, clothing, and protective gear when exposing oneself to strong sunlight for long hours.

 

https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/27/health/skin-myths-truths-partner/index.html

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/the-effects-of-stress-on-your-skin

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/features/bad-skin-habits#1

https://www.cancer.net/blog/2015-07/10-tips-protecting-your-skin-sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Outside to Absorb Vitamin D

Some 75% of US teens and adults are Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D, also known as the sunlight vitamin, is associated with obesity, heart disease, and cancer. People with low Vitamin D are more likely to deal with these issues and many more than those with normal or above normal levels.

What can you do to increase your Vitamin D levels?

Scientists say that getting just 10 minutes of exposure to the sun is enough for most people to maintain appropriate vitamin D levels. But it’s not enough to sit in front of a window on a sunny day. Our bodies use UVB light to help us process vitamin D, and unlike UVA light–the light associated with aging– this light doesn’t make it through windows. So take advantage of any sunny days we get this spring and spend a few minutes basking in the sunshine. Your body will thank you.

 

Additional Resources:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/vitamin-d-deficiency-united-states/

photo of buses and a bicycle stacked on each other

Public transit can help with your new year’s resolution

The recent new year brought the usual onslaught of new years resolutions, and for many people, this meant increasing their activity levels.  Of course, there are the usual ideas of joining a gym or getting work-out equipment for the home, but did you know that taking public transportation can also help with this goal?

Studies have shown that people who take public transportation are more likely to utilize active travel methods, and they are typically more active than those who drive. Additionally, some are suggesting that if you take the time to relax while you commute, you may be able to reduce your stress levels, which has been shown to help weight loss efforts.

On top of the personal health benefits, when people opt for public transit instead of driving, they help reduce the amount of air pollution we breathe in.  Air pollution has negative effects on our lungs and cardiovascular systems.

So if you can, ride the bus. It helps you and your community.

 

 

 

http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/take-action-to-improve-health/what-works-for-health/policies/individual-incentives-for-public-transportation

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/upshot/stuck-and-stressed-the-health-costs-of-traffic.html

 

https://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/g20439118/how-to-prevent-weight-gain-due-to-stress-and-anxiety/

Why Waste “Waste Water”?

The impacts of climate change have a wide range, from severe floods to crippling drought. Most prominently, our changing climate change has and will continue to cause extreme fluctuations in regional weather patterns. El Paso is not the first town in the States to experience these impacts, but the way they may be forced to respond will be unique.

The city of El Paso depends on the Rio Grande River as their main source of potable water. Due to increased temperatures and limited rainfall, the river is unable to provide the needed amount of water for the city. Due to this, El Paso is on its way to becoming the first large US city to directly reuse treated waste water. This means that the city’s sewer and waste water will be cleaned and immediately reintroduced back into people’s drinking water.

These extreme weather events are forcing the city of El Paso to search for water alternatives. And in this case, reusing sewage water is actually a safe and reasonable step. However, this measure does symbolize a growing trend in water resource shortages out west due to our changing climate. In many of these places, cities will have to search for innovative and novel approaches to meeting a growing population’s water needs in the midst of new climate challenges.

 

 

https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/WGIIAR5-Chap11_FINAL.pdf

https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/30/health/water-climate-change-el-paso/index.html

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-01/documents/potablereusecompendium_3.pdf

https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/JHM428.1

 

 

Mental Health Issues Rise Alongside Global Temperatures

It’s no secret that the impacts of climate change extend far beyond our surrounding environment. Numerous sources have shown that our changing climate is associated with a variety of health issues: infectious disease, heatstroke, hyperthermia, respiratory problems, and natural disaster-related injury. However, new literature is beginning to dive deeper on these issues, and how they can affect more complicated outcomes, such as mental health.

Recently, a study conducted by MIT’s Nick Obradovich examined how rising temperatures may be responsible for both direct and indirect causes of mental health issues. The report evaluated 2 million randomly-sampled individuals in the U.S. for mental health issues, which included anything falling in the range of stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. Obradovich roughly defined these issues as “basically means things that are less extreme than hospitalization and suicide but more significant than like grumpiness or day-to-day emotional [agitation]”.

Following this, his team linked these reports with weather data from their respective cities. The team examined how different climate-change weather events (rising temperatures, excessive precipitation, lack of precipitation, extreme temperature changes, and hurricanes) might be associated with the mental health reports for that region. The team found that most of these weather or climate characteristics were linked to a higher likelihood of mental health cases.

Despite this critical new findings, there’s still much to be understood regarding the mechanisms underlying these outcomes. Most of the current hypotheses consider stress a huge mediator. Not only do these events cause stress, but they often disproportionately affect people living in poverty. Researchers are trying to understand these relationships, so that better preventative measures and interventions can be made going forward.

 

https://health2016.globalchange.gov/

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801528115

https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/08/health/climate-change-mental-health-study/index.html

 

Soot Happens

A new study released from the Queen Mary University of London has shown for the first time that air pollution exposure can affect a pregnant woman’s placenta. The placenta is a vital organ which develops during a woman’s pregnancy. It is responsible for providing nutrients and oxygen to a developing baby. In addition, it also serves as an immune system barrier for the baby, which is vulnerable during pregnancy. Any injuries inflicted on the placenta can have serious health effects on the unborn child.

The Queen Mary study examined placenta cells of five women who were exposed to air pollution. Within the samples, researchers found evidence of the presence of soot. Soot is a common air pollutant classified as particulate matter. This type of pollution is made of large damaging particles, and can often be found coming from power plants, manufacturing sites, and motor vehicles. Soot exposure is dangerous, and it is the cause of thousands of premature deaths annually. The findings of this study are novel and alarming – it demonstrates that inhaled particulate matter can travel from the lungs to the placenta.

Placental immune cells are necessary to keep an unborn baby healthy. If the placental immune system is compromised, so is that of the growing baby. It is still unclear what this study’s findings mean for fetal-placental health in the long term. However, researchers on this study are particularly concerned about how soot exposure may disrupt this system.

One thing is clear – this news is disturbing. The study demonstrated that air pollution damage does not stop at the lungs. The conversation about air pollution is not always an environmental one; many pollutants like soot affect human health dramatically. Going forward, it is important to consider how these findings should influence policy. Regulating air pollution is a necessary step to take in order to protect the health of people worldwide.

 

 

https://www.momscleanairforce.org/soot-facts/

https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2018/smd/first-evidence-that-soot-from-polluted-air-may-be-reaching-placenta.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/placenta/art-20044425

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/HPP/default

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025805/