Student Dispatch from 23rd Annual Semiahmoo Conference

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On January 6th, 7th, and 8th of 2011, students, faculty, and staff from the University of Washington School of Public Health, the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health, and the Simon Fraser University Faculty of Health Sciences met at Semiahmoo in Blaine, WA for the 23rd Annual Occupational & Environmental Health Conference and the 6th Annual Public Health Symposium.

The conference was a great opportunity for students, program directors, and faculty from the United States and Canada to share their research and ideas with one another.

The highlight of the conference was when the Dean of the UW School of Public Health, Howard Frumkin, gave a very inspirational speech about planning for environmental public health in the future. He discussed some of the largest challenges facing new environmental health professionals in future years, and I would like to share some of his thoughtful insights:

  1. Demographic Changes: The population is expected to dramatically increase and peak at 10 billion people worldwide. This could lead to public health issues regarding crowding, security, resources, and access to food. There will be new challenges regarding unemployment, job security, and income inequality. The world’s population is also becoming more diverse, as we are witnessing shifts to a population with no major ethic group. For example, in the United States, Spanish has been, and will be—a second language. As health care and living conditions improve, we will also see an increase in the aging population, and people will begin to retire at later stages in their life.
  2. Scientific Advances: New ideas in information technology have made it possible to do electronic data management, share databases, and allowed personal access to information over the internet. This will allow researchers and professionals to rapidly report and collaborate on large projects. With rapidly advancing medical technology and the genomics revolution, we will see many advances in biomedical processes. For example, it has become possible to pin point the early life origins of late life disease (e.g. early chemical exposures, hygiene hypothesis). A new mindset has encouraged the development of green technologies, such as green chemistry, solar power, LED lights, composting/recycling, and plug in vehicles. However, each new technology should be evaluated for its safe use, production, and environmental impacts.
  3. Environmental Change: Although previously debated, the issue of climate change is now very much a reality. This will lead to changes in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, O3, and other compounds, rising temperatures, and increasing sea levels; and the spread of pathogens and heat related disease to new locations. People will continue to relocate to the cities, as more than 50% of the world’s population will become urbanized. In addition, resource scarcities could increase as the weekly per capita energy consumption and demand for energy, water, food, and money increases.
  4. Disease: Primary prevention will be the most important tool in fighting the diseases of the future. Although infectious disease will be a concern, the shift to chronic disease and injuries. It will be important to track health disparities.

Jenna Armstrong is a PhD student in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. Jenna was a NIOSH-supported trainee of the NWCOHS during the 2009-2010 academic year. 

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