Environmental Determinants of Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 23% of global deaths and 26% of deaths in children under five years of age are due to modifiable environmental factors. Lower-income countries bear a higher burden of environmentally mediated disease per capita than developed nations; however, health disparities pervade the United States as well. Rapid population growth and urbanization, differential delivery of essential health services, as well as historic and emerging threats present a myriad of challenges for societies across the globe. It is projected that global food production must increase significantly to meet the demand of a rapidly growing human population. Food is increasingly coming from countries where water sanitation and hygiene systems are not as developed as they are in the United States, and 80% of global sewage is returned to the environment untreated, where it is subject to reuse for recreation, agriculture, and potable water supplies.

Baylor has long-appreciated connections among the environment, people, and disease agents such as pathogens, chemicals, particles and radiation, yet environmental pollution is currently responsible for more deaths globally than all wars in human history combined. Poor stewardship of the environment has proven responsible for the initiation and progression of diseases and the associated adverse outcomes. Developing innovative tools, products, and systems to prevent, diagnose, and manage diseases at the interface of environment and health is critically necessary. Baylor is poised to become an international leader in these areas by investing additional resources in academic programs that already house prominent and distinguished researchers. Faculty working in this space accounted for approximately 14% of external research expenditures at Baylor over the past three years.

Investments in environment and health will create an internationally visible, transdisciplinary research center at Baylor with an initial focus on three broad research themes: (1) disaster risk reduction, resiliency, and humanitarian response; (2) environmental agents and health; and (3) sustainability.The Center for Integrated Global Environment and Health Research (InGEHR, pronounced “in gear”) would facilitate points of research/scholarly engagement for faculty from virtually every school/college on campus over time. Investments in environment and health will also provide a mechanism to enhance collaborations between Baylor University and Baylor College of Medicine (specifically, the BCM National School of Tropical Medicine) through new and expanded joint research programs, joint faculty appointments, and joint degree programs in areas of mutual interest that are firmly aligned with Baylor’s Christian mission.