Environmental and Public Health Economics
Values of the environment and health impacts of pollution are increasingly being used in “getting the prices right” by business, government and the European Commission. Valuation methods from the field of economics are applied in arriving at values in money terms – and these can then be included in decision making tools such as cost-benefit analysis. Research at the Centre attempts to extend this application by valuing both positive and negative impacts of the environment. Our on-going research includes the valuation of ecosystem services in the Isles of Scilly, valuation of atmospheric services in the UK and valuing the impact of climate change.
Research on the effects of the environment on disease and wellbeing in populations is a key tool to understanding how we can gain benefits (and avoid negative effects) from exposure to environmental factors. By examining trends in a cross-section of a community, we can tease out subtle health effects that are not visible at a smaller scale. Our epidemiological research includes assessing the health outcomes from chronic low level exposure to man-made chemicals, exposure to naturally occurring chemical such as radon gas and algal toxins, and the effects of chronic weather or climatic events.
Geographic Information Systems
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help us to visualise and analyse geographically referenced data over a range of scales, from the very small to the very large. We use GIS to map exposures to environmental conditions (the distance from a home to the nearest green space or pollution source, for example) and combine this with other population characteristics to tease out relationships between health and the environment. Our studies use data that may come from large national and international surveys, or involve using data gathered from individuals using GPS and other data logging devices.
The formal definition for the term Horizon Scanning describes the systematic search for emerging issues and opportunities that might affect the probability of achieving management goals and objectives. Put more simply, one of the core goals of horizon scanning is to anticipate issues - accumulating data and knowledge about them that will allow us to make decisions to manage their development. At the European Centre we are using horizon scanning to identify developing areas that link with our research agenda, helping us to make informed choices about new areas that need investigation. For example, by using computer programmes to analyse new trends on the internet that link with the environment and health, we are being alerted to issues that are only now materialising.
Researchers at the Centre are investigating the relationships between humans and the microorganisms that survive and thrive in the human body. We are considering both the agents that can cause disease, and organisms that form an essential part of healthy immunity and digestion. We are also investigating the impact that microorganisms in the environment can have on human health.
Novel Communication Techniques
Researchers at the Centre produce a continual stream of new data that must be manipulated and translated in order to uncover relationships. Use of information graphics and visualisation can transform this data into a much more useful thing: information. Visual presentation is used across the research themes of the Centre, firstly for identifying trends and patterns in data, and secondly for presenting this information to the public and decision-makers. We focus on the use of info-graphics to explain the effects of climate change on health, as well as creating visuals that present complex numerical data.
The Centre is involved in policy research in the areas linking the environment and human health. A key area of expertise is policy research on adaptation to climate change from a health perspective. A broad approach is taken to include all relevant policy areas even where at first glance they might appear of limited relevance. Choices made in different policy areas will often have indirect and contradictory effects on human health and wellbeing. A key aim of our policy research is to identify and minimise or remove contradictions between policies with the ultimate aim of facilitating efficient adaptation to climate change and maximising health and wellbeing outcomes.
Qualitative Research Methods
Part of the Centre’s research programme explores how and why people give meaning to their experiences in the ways that they do, and what the social influences are that inform this process. To capture this information we use a host of qualitative research methods. These methods enable us to focus on the way people interpret and make sense of their experiences and the world in which they live. They involve ‘being’ with the person and the data that is collected tends to be non-numerical symbols, such as words and pictures. We’re applying these methods to find out how we can create the conditions for employees to engage in healthy workplace programmes, to learn more about how active ageing is perceived and experienced across the life course; and to gain an insight into older people's experiences of a changing climate.
Systematic Reviews and Evidence Synthesis
Conducting a systematic review allows a research group to identify all evidence that exists about a particular research question. This evidence is then synthesised using a range of techniques to help identify, amongst other factors, gaps and limitations in current knowledge. This approach is important because it minimises bias in, and maximizes transparency about, the identification, selection and analysis of research evidence. The review may be used to help define a research question (targeting areas that have not yet been explored) or to collate and re-analyse conclusions from other studies. Systematic reviews and evidence synthesis are applied across the full range of research themes and studies at the Centre.