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By Montira Pongsiri
I was recently part of a panel discussion at the American Museum of Natural History on the important roles biodiversity and ecosystems play for children’s health and well-being. While there, I had the opportunity to talk about EPA’s work linking ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health.
Although it’s often overlooked, if we want healthy children, we need healthy ecosystems. Natural ecosystems—forests, wetlands, grasslands—provide us with important “services” such as clean water and air, food, and medicine. And biodiversity underpins healthy ecosystems.
Here are just a few examples the United Nations has identified that make biodiversity important for children’s health. Biodiversity:
- Plays a Crucial Role in Child Nutrition. Sustaining healthy ecosystems helps improve food security and child nutrition, enabling the production of foods, both wild and cultivated
- Is “Nature’s Medicine Cabinet.” Plants are used to make medicines, soil microbes provide antibiotics, and certain animals are used to study how our bodies work and how to cure disease.
- Keeps us Fit (and Happy). Want to reduce rates of childhood obesity, lower stress, and improve physical fitness? Get outside! A growing body of research suggests that early positive experiences with nature can benefit health and well-being in the long run
- Protects Communities. The loss of biodiversity destabilizes ecosystems, weakening their ability to thwart the effects of natural disasters such as floods and wild fires.
- Keeps Diseases in Check. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction can increase the incidence and distribution of certain infectious diseases, including malaria which disproportionately affects children.
I’ve previously blogged about EPA work exploring the links between land use change, biodiversity loss, and Lyme disease transmission (for which incidence rates are highest among children).
We’re trying to answer a new question at EPA: how can we manage land to protect human health? EPA-supported studies are fostering transdisciplinary partnerships among ecologists, epidemiologists, urban/suburban land use planners, and local and state governments to plan for new, sustainable risk prevention/reduction strategies at the landscape and household scales.
Working at the interface of ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health requires a strong community at the international, national, state and local levels, and EPA is contributing new science for sustainable tools and solutions to achieve both healthy environments and healthy people—especially children.
About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor. She has blogged about her work studying the links between environmental change, biodiversity, and human health for Science Wednesday.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.