The Forest for the Trees: A Systems Approach to Human Health Research

By Gohlke, Julia M.; Portier, Christopher J. | Environmental Health Perspectives, September 2007 | Go to article overview

The Forest for the Trees: A Systems Approach to Human Health Research


Gohlke, Julia M., Portier, Christopher J., Environmental Health Perspectives


The current generation of children in many countries have a shorter life expectancy than their parents' generation, mainly due to changing sociopolitical systems and infectious diseases such as AIDS (World Health Organization 2006). Furthermore, the epidemiological transition that has occurred in developed countries leading to the modern rise in obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders (Gillespie et al. 2004; Tedeschi and Airaghi 2006), and certain types of cancers (Dinse et al. 1999) has led to predictions of decreased life expectancy for future generations (Olshansky et al. 2005). This phenomenon cannot be explained by changes in human genetics because the time frame in which they have arisen or accelerated has hardly crossed a generation (Lopez and Murray 1998). Therefore, the sharp rise in these diseases can be attributed to recent changes in our environment, defined here as encompassing social, ecological, and physical components. Logically, identifying the environmental factors that are driving these increases should be a major focus of human health research. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our continuing emphasis on individualized, therapeutic solutions in human health research has far-reaching implications for environmental and public health policy. We offer an alternative, systems-based framework to direct human health research integrating physical, ecological, and social factors with individual aspects.

Starting with Renee Dubos in the 1960s (Dubos et al. 2005) and continuing to present day (Anderson 2004; Cornish-Bowden 2006; Ebi and Gamble 2005; Rose 2001; Schwartz et al. 2006; Toscano and Oehlke 2005; Wing 2003), it has been recognized that a reductionist approach is not sufficient for predicting factors affecting human health, yet current human health research has continued to focus heavily on the biochemical processes causing and modifying specific disease states in the individual, rather than critical analyses of the environmental determinants of health. This focus is evident in analyses of citation indices (Boyack et al. 2005; Ioannidis 2006), where productivity, connectivity, and the role of high-impact multidisciplinary journals has been evaluated. For example, basic biomedical research fields--particularly biochemistry, neuroscience, immunology, cancer biology, and microbiology--have higher citation densities and higher publication rates in the highestimpact multidisciplinary journals, namely Nature and Science, when compared with interdisciplinary or population-focused research fields such as epidemiology, social sciences, and public health. In the United States, this result is not surprising considering that > 50% of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported grants have principal investigators at medical schools, traditionally focused on addressing disease paradigms and therapeutic solutions, whereas approximately 2% of NIH-supported grants have principal investigators in schools of public health, traditionally focused on addressing population risks (NIH 2005). Finally, the most cited medical research is increasingly funded by industry (Patsopoulos et al. 2006), highlighting the impact of current market forces, which provide large financial incentives in the search for therapeutic solutions. In contrast, complex behavioral interventions are not easily patented, so preventive research relies almost exclusively on public and nonprofit funding (Delaney 2006). The result is a research community that is very productive in medical areas dedicated to searching for therapeutic solutions for individuals with particular diseases, but limited in areas of research identifying preventive measures.

Our reliance on basic biomedical research approaches in human health research has undoubtedly shaped current policy decisions. Hence Paul Weiss's words, "It's one thing not to see the forest for the trees, but then to go on to deny the reality of the forest is a more serious matter" (Weiss 1969), are particularly salient. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Forest for the Trees: A Systems Approach to Human Health Research
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.