The HPRU will identify the emerging health effects of large scale changes to our environment that are already happening.

How will climate change affect health in the UK?

A new research partnership to identify the effects of environmental change, including climate change, on health and wellbeing in the UK has been launched.

The new Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health is led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE). It is an interdisciplinary research collaboration involving the European Centre for Environment and Health at the University of Exeter Exeter (containing academics from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences and the College of Life and Environmental Sciences) , the Complex Built Environment Systems Group at University College London (UCL) and the Met Office. The HPRU will identify the emerging health effects of large scale changes to our environment that are already happening.

The research is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and will focus on three main themes;

  1. Climate resilience, focusing on preventing adverse health effects of extreme weather events such as heat waves, cold, and floods, and from climate change.
  2. Healthy sustainable cities, focusing on how the built environment affects our health, and the health benefits of housing and urban planning.
  3. Health and the natural environment, focussing on the health effects of green spaces, airborne exposures, such as pollen, and the ecology of infectious diseases.

Met Office scientist Peter Falloon said “When viewed over long-term averages the UK is expected to see more milder, wetter winters and more frequent hotter, drier summers. But the UK has seasonal weather that also varies hugely from year to year due to natural processes. New analysis suggests that through this century we should also plan to be resilient to wet summers and to cold winters.”

Dr Sari Kovats from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: “The recent flood events in England have shown that we need to understand better population resilience to extreme weather. Recent debates about our energy choices also underscore the need for better evidence on health effects, including the risks and opportunities associated with a low carbon economy. This is an important and ground breaking collaboration between the leading UK institutions currently working in this area.”

Prof Lora Fleming University of Exeter Medical School said “How we live with and adapt to rapid environmental change, ranging from climate change to chemical pollution, and the interactions with human health, is an important challenge for the 21st Century, providing both risks and opportunities. For example, we are seeing important benefits to human wellbeing from interactions with the natural environment.”

Prof Mike Davies from UCL said “Although growing, the evidence relating to the health effects of the built environment is still relatively limited. It is vital that relevant policy is developed using the very best scientific evidence and this exciting collaboration provides an excellent opportunity to enable this to happen”.

Simon Bouffler, Deputy Director of PHE’s centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “Collaborating with first class researchers and world renowned experts through this innovative unit will help ensure that Public Health England’s advice to Government and others is backed by the most robust scientific evidence available.”

The HPRU aims to provide evidence to support decision makers who need to ensure that the health of the UK population is not adversely affected by global scale environmental changes like climate change.

Date: 1 May 2014

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