More people now live in urban areas across than globe than in rural areas, raising issues about the widening divide between people and nature.

Deakin University has set up a Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group to explore the health implications of the link between humans and the natural environment.

The team has two new collaborative research projects underway, including one that is surveying Australian health promotion practitioners about the nature of environmental sustainability and health programs delivered in local communities and the barriers/enablers for evaluating them.

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Jonathan ‘Yotti’ Kingsley and Sarah Driscoll write:

Never before in human history have more people lived in urban regions, and the proportion is set to rise to almost 70 per cent by 2050. One negative consequence of urbanisation is its association with widening the divide between people and nature, particularly given evidence that highlights the fundamental need for human-nature relationships to support health and wellbeing.

Human disconnect from the natural world has been associated with a range of negative outcomes, such as increasing sedentary lifestyles while limiting interactions with nature that promote both physical and mental health. Further, mental health issues have been linked with environmental depredation across a range of settings, with researchers in Western Australia finding a positive correlation between depression and dry land salinity.

Of particular concern are the effects on children as modern technology increases sedentary behaviours while decreasing outside play, which is seen as essential in laying the foundations for future environmental advocacy. Advocacy for human and environmental health is essential in addressing environmental issues like climate change – which in combination or isolation are presenting serious risks to population health.

A recent EcoHealth article reviewed the role of Australian healthcare and health promotion professionals in addressing environmental sustainability issues and found a number of distinct barriers to on-the-ground practice. Nonetheless, health professionals should consider health as part of an interdependent relationship with the environment to (re)establish human’s innate connection to associate with life and lifelike processes that E.O. Wilson coined Biophilia.

This reconnection calls for health promoters to put the ‘eco’ back into the Ecological Model of Health, which could be achieved through a focus on water as a vehicle that transcends boundaries and lays the foundations in human existence. Like water, the flow of information from professionals of varying disciplines to local communities is essential in forming the collaboration needed to (re)connect health promotion initiatives and thus people back to the environment.

Health implications in human/nature link

With this background, researchers at the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, working under the banner of the Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group, have established a team to explore the health implications of the link between humans and the natural environment. It will work in collaboration across different disciplines to explore the human-nature link.

Two new collaborative research projects undertaken by this team are focused on curriculum development at Deakin and community level health promotion workers across Australia. These projects attempt to improve the capability of the health promotion sector to tackle environmental change that cuts across different disciplines.

The first study aims to describe environmental sustainability and health evaluation measures being used by Australian health promotion practitioners. By surveying and interviewing these practitioners, we are interested in understanding the nature of environmental sustainability and health programs delivered in local communities and the barriers/enablers for evaluating such programs. The aim of the research is to develop an evaluation tool that incorporates environmental, equity and health indicators for health promotion practitioners.

In the second study, the research team will interview environmental sustainability and health specialists to refine a new major at Deakin University called ‘Health and Sustainability’. This refinement is aimed to reflect the needs of the sector and support students to get more meaningful training and job success after graduating university. The outcomes of this study are to describe professional competencies for future graduates, explore alternative curriculum and promote professional opportunities to students to strengthen their ability to tackle future environmental sustainability issues.

• Updates on the work of the Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group can be followed at http://www.deakin.edu.au/health/hsd/research/niche/hns/welcome.php

• Community level health promotion workers practising in Australia are invited to participate in the survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Enviro_Sust_HP_research

• Jonathan ‘Yotti’ Kinsley is a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Health at Deakin University. Sarah Driscoll is a Bachelor of Health Sciences/Arts student at Deakin University.

 

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