Ecosystem approach to health: the integration of work and the environment

Maria Luiza de Jesus Lawinsky, Frédéric Mertens, Carlos Sousa Passos, Renata Távora


The dissociation of humans from nature results from the hegemony of capitalism and is expressed in the way most humans interact with their environment. This dissociation has produced imbalances that are expressed in the health of both humans and the environment. They arise from the divorce between “civilization” and the environment that sustains it and are seen in the mindless and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources for the production of material goods. Both productive activities and their negative externalities (pollution, climate change, unemployment, labor exploitation, unplanned urbanization, poverty, etc.) have serious health consequences for rural and urban environments.

The concept of environmental health presented in this paper incorporates the relations between environmental and human health, aiming to foster more systematic studies of the interconnections between environmental risk factors (such as exposure to specific physical and chemical agents) and human diseases and public health. We understand health as a process determined by a complex web of biological, social, and psychological factors that develop within a defined geographical area.

Assuming health to be a state of complete physiological and psychological wellbeing, it becomes clear that the major problems facing humanity today arise from the modern relationship between man and nature. The social welfare approach to health problems prevalent since the 19th century has not kept pace with our growing health problems. The study of occupational diseases caused by polluted workplaces has brought about a return to the old paradigm of preventing disease by promoting a healthy environment.

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