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Protect environment to help human health

Tuesday November 14th, 2017

Protecting the environment will help to safeguard human lives, a leading scientist has told a global health conference.

Dr Samuel Myers, principal research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, told delegates at The Academy of Medical Sciences and The Lancet International Health lecture last night that action is needed to halt the negative effects on human health from pollution and over-consumption of natural resources.

He will highlight how changes such growing staple food crops in fields that have higher carbon dioxide levels; the decline of insect pollinators, which could increase global disease burden; and frequent and dramatic extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and droughts, could pose serious risks to human health in the future.

He will call for increased funding for planetary health science, warning that research funding levels are inadequate to deal with the seriousness of the issues facing humanity.

“We are already seeing significant impacts on human health from our changing planet, and this will only get worse as pollution, climate change and overconsumption increases,” he said.

“The challenges we face are quite unlike anything scientists have had to deal with before. To deal with such pressing and urgent challenges we may need a whole new science, where researchers work across traditional boundaries.

“Land use planners, urban designers, ecologists, civil engineers and agronomists are just as important to solve these problems as scientists, doctors, nurses and epidemiologists.

"The next generation of planetary health researchers will need to turn away from purely academic questions, looking instead to create new partnerships to address the complex challenges facing society."

The conference will also hear that as temperatures rise, the surge in death rates during hot weather will outweigh any decrease in deaths during cold snaps.

The largest study to date into climate change on human health has shown that the potential temperature-related health impacts of climate change, found that if no action is taken by 2090-99, there will be a net increase in deaths of 12.7% in South-East Asia, while mortality rates would also rise in Southern Europe by about 6·4% in and in South America by 4·6%.

Cooler regions such as Northern Europe could experience either no change or a marginal decrease in deaths.

However, the research, led by Antonio Gasparrini, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and published in the latest edition of The Lancet Planetary Health, found that these deaths could largely be avoided if there was action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and further warming of the planet.

Lancet Planetary Health 13 November 2017

Tags: General Health | UK News | World Health

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