‘Our health is inextricably linked to our environment’

Dean F. DuBois Bowman

Dean F. DuBois Bowman

As climate change intensifies, it’s clearer than ever that our health is inextricably linked to our environment. 

In this issue of Findings, we explore the many ways in which our well-being is impacted by the air we breathe, water we drink, toxins we encounter and food we eat. However, the impacts are not the same for everyone. There are deep inequities in the ways in which climate change and environmental exposures affect different communities, particularly people of color and low-income communities. 

In public health, it’s not only our job to understand how the environment impacts our health, but to address these inequities as well. As I was reading this issue of Findings, I was struck by something Jennifer Smith said. Smith is a PhD student at Michigan Public Health whose research focuses on toxicology. “If you have the capability to help, you should,” she said. “If you have the passion and ache to help, you should. And if you have both, like I think many people in this field both here at Michigan Public Health and elsewhere have, you are capable of making a massive impact that not many people can or will.”

I’ve felt a similar call in my own research. I’m working with a team currently investigating the association between prenatal exposure to the insecticide chlorpyrifos and the development of Parkinson’s-like symptoms in a cohort of minority youth in New York City. Although chlorpyrifos has been banned for indoor use, it continues to be applied widely for agricultural purposes in the United States and abroad, meaning this insecticide is still very much present in our environment. My research seeks to understand how the insecticide affects brain structure and function over a child’s lifespan. 

As you read this issue of Findings, you’ll see similar stories from Michigan Public Health faculty, students and alumni who are also working to understand how various environmental exposures are linked to our health and well-being. This happens in many ways, through research as well as policy and advocacy work. It also happens through the training of the next generation of environmental health leaders. And in our main story, you’ll read how the school’s Environmental Health Sciences department is doing just that. 

The challenges brought on by our changing climate and environment are serious and daunting, but I am proud of the Michigan Public Health community members who have the capacity to help and are making an impact. I hope you feel encouraged after reading this issue of Findings, and, as Jennifer says, if you have a passion to help, know that you can make a difference.