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Ecosystem Services and Preventive Medicine

A Natural Connection
Published:December 14, 2015DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2015.11.001
      Modern public health challenges require interdisciplinary solutions that integrate knowledge of human behavior and its complex relationship with the physical environment. Historically, this discourse was dominated by studies of hazards and other negative health consequences associated with human–environment interactions. However, growing evidence
      • Hartig T.
      • Mitchell R.
      • de Vries S.
      • Frumkin H.
      Nature and health.
      suggests that contact with green spaces (e.g., parks, forests, gardens) can be beneficial to physical and mental health. Despite these findings, integration of the natural environment into preventive medicine policy and practice has been slow. This is partly due to limited recognition of the multifaceted health benefits associated with green spaces and the challenge of characterizing and evaluating these benefits. Minimal dialogue across disciplines, especially between environmental and health professionals, has exacerbated the divide,
      • Karjalainen E.
      • Sarjala T.
      • Raitio H.
      Promoting human health through forests: overview and major challenges.
      • Shanahan D.F.
      • Fuller R.A.
      • Bush R.
      • Lin B.B.
      • Gaston K.J.
      The health benefits of urban nature: how much do we need?.
      further hindering nature-based health promotion. Many environmental and social scientists have embraced the concept of “ecosystem services” as a framework for understanding, evaluating, and communicating the contributions of ecosystems to human well-being.
      • Elmqvist T.
      • Setala H.
      • Handel S.N.
      • et al.
      Benefits of restoring ecosystem services in urban areas.
      Ecosystem services describe nature’s direct and indirect benefits to humans, including life-supporting ecological processes and provision of outdoor spaces that encourage active lifestyles, which support the prevention of diseases and other maladies. As these services have major implications for human health and well-being,
      • Daniel T.C.
      • Muhar A.
      • Arnberger A.
      • et al.
      Contributions of cultural services to the ecosystem services agenda.
      WHO
      Ecosystems and Human Well-Being-Health Synthesis: A Report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
      the integration of ecosystem services and preventive medicine may be an important strategy for advancing health research, education, and practice.
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