Environmental Health Disparities and Environmental Justice
Environmental Health Disparities (EHD)
The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age shape their health and wellbeing over their life course. These conditions, commonly referred to as "social determinants of health," influence health outcomes and include factors such as access to affordable healthy food, potable water, green space, safe housing, clean air and supportive social networks. Social determinants of health are in turn shaped by wider forces, including economics, social policies, politics and personal and community beliefs and value systems. The unequal distribution of these conditions and their determinants across various populations is increasingly understood as a significant contributor to persistent and pervasive health disparities. A focus on health equity calls for addressing the determinants of health that put particular social groups at a disadvantage for positive health outcomes.
Within the context of social determinants of health, “environmental determinants” stand out as critical for reducing and preventing health disparities because they are amenable to intervention and prevention strategies. The term ‘‘environmental determinants’’ encompasses the natural environment, built environment and social environment. Thus, environmental influences are not limited to physical, chemical, or biological agents and natural amenities, but also include social and economic stressors, institutional processes and resiliency factors.
Evidence suggests that health-disparate populations, which includes racial and ethnic minorities (African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, American Indian/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders), inner city, and rural and low-income populations, generally experience higher levels of exposure to physical and chemical environmental hazards, as well as the cumulative effects of exposure to multiple environmental hazards and social stressors such as poverty, psychosocial stress and lifelong patterns of discrimination. Positive effects of the natural environment, such as buffering of anthropogenic and natural hazards and available opportunities for healthful behaviors, can also be disproportionately limited in these populations.
Environmental Justice (EJ)
Environmental Justice is a philosophical approach that focuses on solutions to address inequities in exposures, adverse health outcomes and prevention/mitigation services for vulnerable populations. In that regard, EJ is the actionable component of EHD.
- EHD research highlights underlying inequities related to environmental exposures and health outcomes
- EJ research identifies strategies and the means for addressing these inequities
The focus of EJ research is on the causes of EHD. Public health interventions, urban planning and public education programs are recognized approaches that can be used to achieve health and environmental equity and can create healthier and safer environments for everyone.
Sharon D. Beard, M.S.
Kimberly Ann Gray, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Liam R. O'Fallon, M.A.
Claudia L. Thompson, Ph.D.
Chief, Susceptibility and Population Health Branch
Tel (919) 541-4638
Fax (919) 316-4606
PO Box 12233
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Office located in: Keystone Office Bldg.
530 Davis Drive
Morrisville, NC 27560