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Environmental epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health. This field seeks to understand how various external risk factors may predispose to or protect against disease, illness, injury, developmental abnormalities, or death. These factors may be naturally occurring or may be introduced into environments where people live, work, and play.
Environmental exposures can be broadly categorized into those that are proximate (e.g., directly leading to a health condition), including chemicals, physical agents, and microbiological pathogens, and those that are distal, such as socioeconomic conditions, climate change, and other broad-scale environmental changes. Proximate exposures occur through air, food, water, and skin contact. Distal exposures cause adverse health conditions directly by altering proximate exposures, and indirectly through changes in ecosystems and other support systems for human health.
Environmental epidemiology research can inform risk assessments; development of standards and other risk management activities; and estimates of the co-benefits and co-harms of policies designed to reduce global environment change, including policies implemented in other sectors (e.g. food and water) that can affect human health.
Vulnerability is the summation of all risk and protective factors that ultimately determine whether an individual or subpopulation experiences adverse health outcomes when an exposure to an environmental agent occurs. Sensitivity is an individual’s or subpopulation’s increased responsiveness, primarily for biological reasons, to that exposure. Biological sensitivity may be related to developmental stage, pre-existing medical conditions, acquired factors, and genetic factors. Socioeconomic factors also play a critical role in altering vulnerability and sensitivity to environmentally mediated factors by increasing the likelihood of exposure to harmful agents, interacting with biological factors that mediate risk, and/or leading to differences in the ability to prepare for or cope with exposures or early phases of illness. Populations living in certain regions may be at increased risk due to location and the environmental characteristics of a region.
- Environmental health
- Environmental science
- C. Arden Pope
- Occupational safety and health
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- The International Society for Environmental Epidemiology
- International Epidemiological Association
- Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
- Epidemiology journal
- Environmental Health Perspectives (news and peer-reviewed research journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
- Environmental Health News current events in environmental health
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