Environmental Health Research: Identifying the Context and the Needs, and Choosing Priorities
- George Morris, George MorrisEuropean Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Truro, United Kingdom
- Marco Martuzzi, Marco MartuzziWorld Health Organization
- Lora Fleming, Lora FlemingEuropean Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Truro, United Kingdom
- Francesca RacioppiFrancesca RacioppiWorld Health Organization
- and Srdan MaticSrdan MaticWorld Health Organisation - Country Office to the Czech Republic Prague, Czech Republic
Adequate funding, careful planning, and good governance are central to delivering quality research in any field. Yet, the strategic directions for research, the mechanisms through which topics emerge, and the priorities assigned are equally deserving of attention. The need to understand the role played by the environment and to manage the physical environment and the human activities which bear upon it in pursuit of health, well-being, and equity are long established. These imperatives drive environmental health research as a key branch of scientific inquiry.
Targeted research over many years, applying established methods, has informed society’s understanding of the toxic, infectious, allergenic, and physical threats to health from our physical surroundings and how these may be managed. Essentially hazard-focused research continues to deliver policy-relevant findings while simultaneously posing questions to be addressed through further research. Environmental health in the 21st century is, however, confronted by additional challenges of a rather different character. These include the need to understand, in a better and more policy-relevant way, the contributions of the environment to health and equity in complex interaction with other societal and individual-level influences (a so-called socioecological model). Also important are the potential of especially green and blue natural environments to improve health and well-being and promote equity, and the health implications of new approaches to production and consumption, such as the circular economy.
Such challenges add breadth, depth, and richness to the environmental health research agenda, but when combined with the existential and public health threat of humanity’s detrimental impact on the Earth’s systems, they entail a need for new and better strategies for scientific inquiry. As we confront the challenges and uncertainties of the Anthropocene, the complexity expands, the stakes become sky-high, and diverse interests and values clash. Thus, the pressure on environmental health researchers to evolve and engage with stakeholders and reach out to the widest constituency of policy and practice has never been greater, nor has the need to organize to deliver.
A disparate range of contextual factors have become pertinent when scoping the now significantly extended, territory for environmental health research. Moreover, the challenges of prioritizing among the candidate topics for investigation have scarcely been greater.