The way in which humans engage with and respond to the environment has undergone some significant developments in the last century. Throughout the last 100 years world population, life expectancy and consumption have all grown dramatically. These changes have been accompanied by a migration of the global population from rural to increasingly urban environments, placing widening pressures on the quality and diversity of natural habitats.
The importance of research
As our environments change, both due to anthropogenic and natural influences, a number of threats and opportunities to human health exist. Research into this emerging field of interest will play a fundamental role in the way we perceive our interactions with the environment; providing essential knowledge to private sector organisations and governments for developing management strategies that can prevent the spread of disease, and identify and promote opportunities.
In the UK, adults now spend only 20% of their time outdoors; the figure for children is just 9%. Large proportions of the population do not have adequate access to the natural environment, a factor which is often accentuated by social inequalities and self-perceptions. Developing an understanding of the barriers to the use of outdoor space will be essential in the creation of interventions which aim to reverse these trends.
The University of Exeter Medical School’s location in south west England provides a unique opportunity to examine the role a number of hazards such as radon gas, UV radiation, pesticides and algal toxins, play in initiating disease. It also offers the ideal location to explore use of the natural and particularly coastal environments.