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Human health inextricably linked to surroundings

I graduated from our nation's first public health program at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, as part of a class that Hurricane Katrina almost erased. My field of study focused on relationships between people's health and the security of their environment.

The emerging field of population-environment interactions examines whether and how at-risk groups become more vulnerable to illness based on gender, income and migration dynamics. After graduating, I completed a six-month research fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with support from the Hispanic Serving Health Profession Schools. While there, I observed the CDC's 60th year anniversary as a federal agency formed to eradicate malaria.

Environmental health emphasizes programs and policies to mitigate hazards while supporting the natural systems upon which our lives depend. Currently, the CDC is also advancing ways to improve our "built environment." Well-planned "built environments" encourage physical activity in settings that promote safety and cohesion.

A city's vitality requires pedestrian safeguards, health access points, reliable services and a sense of meaningful participation for its residents.

As scores of new health threats emerge in different settings, it becomes critical to re-examine our approach to managing human security.

A growing proportion of modern threats are associated with poor land use planning, such as roadways ill-prepared to accommodate increased residential density. Other challenges include those posed by contamination from clandestine methamphetamine labs, respiratory stresses on indoor pool workers and integrated emergency preparedness across state and interterritorial water systems.

Environmental health draws on broad disciplines to respond to society's changing needs. For example, healthy spatial designs foster lifestyle improvements, neighborhood safety and institutional networks.

As we plan for a healthy future, it's important to consider how our daily behaviors demand resources from both natural and built environments. Our daily needs and those of our children go far beyond land requirements for sidewalks or roads. The universal public health challenges confronting our environment concern energy conservation and improved leadership practices.

Our continued needs will be supported only if we replenish the assets we consume. Ignoring this reality will ensure aggravated disasters.

The premise of "environmental security" implies freedom from the constant threat of disease or sudden disruptions. Achieving that ideal will require nothing less than a universal commitment from all.

Jason Feldman graduated from The Park School of Buffalo in 1994. He has lived overseas and worked in the Peace Corps.

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