Panelists Discuss Environment's Impact on Health

Experts discussed the different ways the environment can impact health to a crowd of students and members of both the Harvard and greater Boston communities gathered in the Geographical Lecture Hall on Monday.

The event, entitled “How Does the Environment Affect Our Health?”, was presented by the Harvard Museum of Natural History in conjunction with the Harvard T. H. Chan Center for Health and the Global Environment.

Environmental Health
John D. Spengler addresses how urban environments affect human health at the Harvard Museum of Natural History on Monday afternoon. The lecture was hosted in collaboration with the Center for Health and the Global Environment and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The first of three featured speakers, John D. Spengler, professor of environmental health and human habitation, spoke about the impact of air pollution on human health. Citing a study that compared the health and mortality of residents in six different cities across the U.S. with varying levels of air pollution, he said that there was inherent link between particulates in the air and health.

Spengler also drew attention to the link between climate change and human welfare—a link that, he said, is sometimes lost in the greater discussion.

Assistant Professor Joseph Allen and Program Leader Julia Africa, both from the Harvard School of Public Health, each discussed the relationship between one’s environment and mental health.

While Allen focused on the effect of the indoor environment in the workplace on health, well-being, and productivity, Africa spoke on how mental health and stress levels are positively impacted by being present in nature.

“A natural environment may be more restorative or more soothing than the relatively more modern incarnation of our built environment now particularly with its materials and sensory cues,” Africa said.

Jesse R. Marrow, a sophomore at Northeastern University who attended the event, said he was drawn by the discussion’s position at the intersection of environment and urban design.

“I’m very interested in the environment, climate change, and also sustainable design. Up until today, I never though about the health impacts,” Marrow said. “It was great to hear a lot about as we progress with sustainable, urban design, how we need to think about health with everything we are doing.”

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