Environmental epidemiology

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Environmental epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health[1]. 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.[2]

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.[3] Biological sensitivity may be related to developmental stage[4], 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merrill, Ray M. (2008). Environmental epidemiology : principles and methods. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. pp. 8–9. ISBN 9780763741525. OCLC 163589221.
  2. ^ Slikker, William Jr., Chang, Louis W., Handbook of Developmental Neurotoxicology, p. 460, 1998, Academic Press, ISBN 0080533434, google books
  3. ^ Balbus, John M; Catherine Malina (January 2009). "Identifying vulnerable subpopulations for climate change health effects in the United States". Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 51 (1): 33–37. doi:10.1097/JOM.0b013e318193e12e. ISSN 1536-5948. PMID 19136871.
  4. ^ Grandjean, Phillipe (2015). Only one chance : how environmental pollution impairs brain development--and how to protect the brains of the next generation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199985388. OCLC 817736465.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baker, D.; Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., eds. (2008). Environmental Epidemiology: Study Methods and Application. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852792-3.

External links[edit]