How Physical Environments Influence Health

Sharon Horner

Dr. Sharon Horner

People tend to forget we live in a physical environment that can influence health. Human beings spend more than 88 percent of their lives inside built environments where they live, work and play. The problem is that building materials such as furniture, fabrics, window treatments, carpeting — or no carpeting — and mechanical systems, such as heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, can all influence our health.

That’s why our theme for this year’s St. David’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations (CHPR) conference is “The Physical Environment’s Influences on Health” and will focus on the influences that our physical or built environment has on our health and how these could be altered for the better. This “health in all policies” approach underscores how all sectors of civil society make decisions that impact health on a population level.

Because so much of our environment is designed by humans and, therefore, somewhat under human control, it is essential that we understand the impact it makes on our health and well-being. The way cities and neighborhoods are designed can either promote or hinder how we engage in health-promoting activities.

Conference speakers and panelists hail from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, such as nursing (environmental/occupational health), medicine (population health), public health (community environments), architecture (community and regional planning), communication (environmental risk), and engineering (indoor air quality and materials emissions from the built environment). They will take us through the negative health outcomes that can arise due to environmental factors and identify strategies we can adopt to reduce, control or eliminate the source of any negative factors.

This year’s conference has been shortened to a half-day, and the format has changed from serial speakers to one keynote speaker and a moderated panel to enhance opportunities for discussion and audience interaction.

Linda A. McCauley

Dean Linda A. McCauley

Our keynote speaker is Linda A. McCauley, dean and professor of the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Dean McCauley received a bachelors of science in nursing from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, an MSN from Emory University and a doctorate in environmental health from the University of Cincinnati.

She is an internationally recognized leader in environmental and occupational health and conducts interdisciplinary research using participatory research models to study pesticide exposures among minority communities. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dean McCauley is a fellow of the American Academy of Occupational Health Nurses and the Academy of Nursing, a member of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Public Health Association, and is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine.

poster session

St. David’s CHPR Conference Poster Session

Also new this year are student poster awards: two for undergraduate and two for graduate students. The top award for each winning poster is $300, and runners up receive $150.

We hope you will join us for the St. David’s CHPR conference, which will be held noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, 2016, at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center at 2110 San Jacinto Boulevard on the campus of UT Austin.

To register, visit the St. David’s CHPR Conference registration page.

—Sharon Horner, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean for research, and director of the UT Austin School of Nursing’s St. David’s CHPR

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