Magazine article The Nation's Health

Connecting the Dots: Human Health, Animal Health and the Environment

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Connecting the Dots: Human Health, Animal Health and the Environment

Article excerpt

AS WE celebrate National Public Health Week this month, we need to expand our thinking and explore how changes in our environment and climate affect not only human health, but also animal health, which has direct connections to the health of the public.

Climate change, the focal point of National Public Health Week 2008, provides us with many opportunities to add new partners to our networks and to broaden our vision. It also helps increase the impact of our work by leveraging the efforts of traditional public health practice and nontraditional partners whose expertise enhances our knowledge.

During my visit to the Alaska Public Health Summit in December, I heard an Arctic explorer speak about his travels and the changes that he has observed in the Arctic zones over many years of "mushing" across frozen landscapes. Feeding grounds for polar bears are changing. As the ice floes dissipate, there are fewer seals close to shore for polar bears to feed on, forcing the bears to swim long distances and become exhausted before they can return to safety.

Humans have changed the planet's climate, destroying habitats, changing the course of rivers, making deserts green and introducing non-native species that threaten native plants and animals. Industrialization, while benefiting society, has also resulted in harm to the environment, and we are slow in finding solutions to mitigate these harms and their impact on vulnerable populations. Seemingly small changes in temperature affect habitats and thereby affect the food chain, impacting places that have contributed the least to global warming and leading to decreased access to food and water supplies. …

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