This is a guest post by the computational epidemiologist Dr. John Ayers:
Most of us are aware of the “big data” revolution fueled by electronic information. It has been suggested that big data, along with hypothesis-free methods popularized by films such as Moneyball, will allow for an unprecedented growth of knowledge across disciplines, including epidemiology and preventive medicine. While I am a bit more circumspect in expectations (there is no substitute for survey data in many cases), I do believe that electronic data collected for a fraction of the cost of survey data can work hand-in-hand with research derived from more traditional sources.
The recent death of Paul Epstein, a physician who advocated for epidemiologists to consider the health impact of climate change, has renewed conversations about our future scientific path to understanding highly complex interactions between global weather and human disease. Ever since Epstein’s 1999 commentary in the journal Science, which argued that global warming would enhance the emergence of infectious diseases, epidemiologists have been avidly working to determine how to mitigate the negative implications of climate change on human health—from predicting outbreaks, to cleaning up superfunds, to counter-acting the marine pollution that followed the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One particularly interesting set of studies have identified climate change as a major factor in food safety—affecting the risk of zoonotic diseases, mycotoxin contamination, biotoxins in fishery products and environmental contaminants. In this week’s blog, we look at the food safety implications of climate change, from algal blooms to new strategies for surveillance.
“Three threats all arise from the Earth’s limited capacity to sustain unabated human growth and consumption,” wrote Peter Winch of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “(1) Global climate change, (2) ecosystem degradation, and (3) peak oil production.”
We have to admit that, until a few weeks ago, “peak oil” was not on our bulletin board of phrases used in public health (frankly, most of us epidemiologists didn’t know what it meant). By contrast, it’s become clear that climate change may alter patterns of malaria and dengue fever transmission. And that ecosystem degradation can have long-term implications for water and food shortages. But what’s the public health effect of petroleum?
In this week’s blog post, we discuss the concept of peak oil, and summarize a series of recent studies suggesting that this term should become part of our regular public health lexicon…
The international non-governmental organization Oxfam has just put out a major new campaign, the likes of which seem as large—or larger—than their “Make Trade Fair” Campaign that crystalized during the massive globalization protests of 1999.
The campaign—called GROW—sets out a discrete but complex challenge: with nearly one billion people facing hunger every day (about 1 in 7 people worldwide), and international prices of basic foods expected to double by 2030, how do we tackle food insecurity? The question is not a simple Malthusian excuse to promote biotechnological, industrial agricultural overload—after all, Oxfam is well aware that famine results from the inability to purchase food in a world where there is still enough to go around. Rather, Oxfam poses the question in the broader database of key facts: that women’s access to farming is limiting progress to reduce hunger; that three big multinational agricultural companies (Cargill, Bunge, ADM) control almost 90% of the grain trade; that climate change is anticipated to reduce agricultural yields dramatically; and that diabetes and hunger are both appearing in poor communities as manifestations of malnutrition (breaking down our medical dichotomy between the under-nourished and over-nourished, as we discussed in an earlier blog post). If power determines who gets to eat properly and who does not, then how do we shift power, and in what ways? And how can we do so within the world’s political and environmental realities—that is, with a viewpoint that is informed not only by public health and nutrition science, but also by agricultural insights, ecological findings and economics?