Exploring Health and the Environment with Digital Tools from EnviroAtlas
There are so many different ways that the environment has an impact on our health. If you’ve ever felt better after going for walk in the fresh air or enjoyed the calm of a beautiful sunset, this is something you probably already know anecdotally. There is also a lot of scientific evidence that supports the interconnectedness of human health and the environment. We know that the air we breathe and the water we drink have to potential to harm as well as to sustain us. Access to parks and greenspace provides opportunities for physical activity and supports a range of positive mental health outcomes. The studies that describe these relationships between ecosystem services, or the benefits provided to humans by the environment, and community health are the foundation for another of the EPA’s interactive digital tools. Earlier this month we provided an overview of the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map. Now we’re going to take a look at another tool from EnviroAtlas, the Eco-Health Relationship Browser.
Like the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map, the Eco-Health Relationship Browser is designed with non-specialized users in mind. That is, you don’t have to be a technology whiz or an environmental health expert to be able to navigate through the tool or understand the information being presented. It’s also free and accessible to anyone with the internet! The Browser functions as digital concept map in which each ecosystem service, such as “recreation and physical activity,” is linked with ecosystems that influence it, such as “urban ecosystems” or “wetlands” as well as associated human health outcomes such as “cardiovascular diseases” and “stress.” The tool is highly interactive - as you click on the related concepts in the map, the tool moves and adjusts so that you can see other drivers and outcomes linked to that idea, allowing you to easily navigate through a massive network of relationships linking different facets of human well-being and aspects of the environment. However, behind the sleek front-facing interface, there is a massive database of scientific information. The Browser serves as an interactive bibliography of over 800 peer-reviewed journal articles. The Browser tool offers a short synthesis of literature related to each concept you click on, but you can also access all of the scientific literature used to create and manage the Browser tool though the public online bibliography, which provides summaries of researchers’ findings for each article listed.
The EPA provides a lesson plan complete with a teacher guide and student activities for educators who are interested in using the Browser directly with students to talk about the connections between access to parks, physical activity, and human health (among other issues). In this moment of online learning, the Browser could be a useful way to bridge screen time and simultaneously promote outdoor recreation. One lesson plan (“Healthy Environment, Healthy You”) includes nature journaling informed by data from the Browser – perfect for a Fall outdoor activity. Even beyond this direct application with youth, the Eco-Health Relationship Browser is a powerful tool. Gaining access to such a rich database of scientific information in an easy-to-use format can help provide data-based backing for those pushing for change at local levels, for practitioners who want to demonstrate the importance of their work, or for kids themselves who want to advocate for healthy environments in which to learn, grow, and play. In Texas, Oklahoma, and California, parents, students, and teachers used scientific research to push for increased recess time in elementary schools and those states went on pilot innovative recess programs with amazing results for student achievement and well-being. Sometimes a little academic research to back up an argument can go a long way towards improving the lives of the youth we serve.