Web site links global environment and health for middle school students and teachers

April 27, 2010

What do climate change, urban sprawl, and globalization have common? All are forms of environmental change that can trigger public health problems. What people should know, and what they can do, about these problems is explored in a newly redesigned Web site, "EcoHealth: Environmental Change and Our Health," aimed at middle school students and their teachers as well as the general public. The site's address is www.ecohealth101.org. "When forests are cut down or our climate is altered by emissions from fossil fuel combustion, human health is at risk, along with resultant environmental degradation," says Jonathan Patz, a professor of population health sciences and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We've shown these links in our research and are obliged to translate this knowledge to the next generation of problem solvers: our children." Patz and a group of collaborators at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health first developed the EcoHealth Web site as an educational complement to a PBS television mini-series called "Journey to Planet Earth." Actor Matt Damon hosted and narrated the program, which aired in 2003 and 2004. Although the series ended, the site lived on, highlighting issues raised by global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, conflicts between humans and nature, agriculture and drinking water, and globalization and disease. Along with an abundance of issue-specific information, the site, now managed at UW-Madison, offers news, games, video clips, a glossary, and lesson plans for teachers. With a single click, users also can translate the content into nearly 50 different languages. "EcoHealth helps provide the context for today's headline news," says Patz. And because it is reviewed for accuracy and fairness by science, health, and environmental experts in a wide range of specialties, the site "is a reliable resource for sorting the science from the sound bites." Major funding for the EcoHealth site has come from private donors, the New York Community Trust, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Overbrook Foundation, Consortium for Conservation Medicine, Wildlife Trust, Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Seed Grant Fund & Center for a Livable Future, and UW-Madison. Other partners in the venture include the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and the Wildlife Disease Information Node, a cooperative unit of UW-Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey housed in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.