Climate for Health Plays a Big Role at Major Public Health Conference

By path2positive

Climate for Health just returned from another invigorating American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. This year’s conference, held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, accepted an impressive 32 sessions on the topic of climate change and health.

Following are some of the highlights.

Learning Institute – Climate Change and Health

We kicked off the week with APHA’s first-ever, day-long Learning Institute: "Climate Change and Health: Building Your Expertise and Leadership for a 21st-Century Climate for Health." The Institute, co-organized by ecoAmerica, was a collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Natural Resources Defense Council, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and was intended to fill identified gaps in public health training and practice.

Thirty participants joined us for the Learning Institute, which was designed to prepare them to speak as climate-health leaders with peers, the public, and other leaders on climate and health impacts and solutions. The day began with expert presentations on the major impacts of climate on health, characteristics that increase vulnerability to climate change and health impacts, and techniques for quantitative assessment. After these sessions, we facilitated open discussions and fielded questions from public health practitioners on identifying key climate-health effects.

In the afternoon, participants extended these learnings into practice in a session focused on effective climate and health communication. There ecoAmerica shared the latest research-based guidance and tested language from our “Let’s Talk Climate” series, which is designed to equip health professionals to create and deliver compelling climate and health messages. Participants were trained in how to apply these findings and were provided with a toolkit that includes tips on what to avoid along with health-specific, vetted language for motivating behavior change and increasing support for climate and health solutions. The communications training was followed by interactive small-group exercises, table discussions, case studies, practice sessions, and a full-room discussion, allowing participants to apply new knowledge, build skills, and strengthen confidence.

Learning Institute Registration Scholarships

ecoAmerica awarded scholarships to more than ten individuals attending the Learning Institute, in order to expand and diversify the number of public health professionals who are supported in learning about climate and health, integrating core concepts into their work, disseminating messaging across their networks, and taking action to lead on climate and health solutions.

The scholarship recipients have a breadth of backgrounds and experience. They are students, educators, and professionals with expertise ranging from environmental, community, and international health to nursing and environmental education. Hailing from a diversity of places including California, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of the participants came to Denver to serve as APHA Climate for Health Champions. Now that they have completed the Learning Institute, they will continue to work on expanding awareness of and engagement on climate change as a health priority within both public health and the APHA.

Watch an overview of our Learning Institute here and read more about it here.

Climate Change Social Hour

The Learning Institute kept us busy, but we also got a chance to get out of the convention hall and head over to a restaurant on Denver’s 16th Street Mall for a Climate Change Social Hour. Sponsored by the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance and the APHA Climate and Health Topic Committee with support from ecoAmerica, this event provided an opportunity to mingle and network with APHA members interested in climate change, learn about upcoming climate events and sessions at the conference, and engage with great work happening on climate and health. This crowded social hour was an excellent opportunity to catch up with existing partners and meet new potential collaborators. The wine and artichoke dip weren’t bad either!

Making the Connection: Climate Changes Health


For our session, "Making the Connection: Climate Changes Health," we reprised in person our Spring 2016 four-part climate and health webinar series (which was co-sponsored by APHA and ecoAmerica and produced in conjunction with four other national health and medical associations). This time, we placed an even greater emphasis on climate change’s disproportionate impacts upon vulnerable populations, as well as emerging solutions to protect and promote public health and health equity in a changing environment.

The session was moderated by Bob Perkowitz, ecoAmerica Founder and President, and featured an inspiring panel of leading national experts: Mona Sarfaty, Director, Program on Climate and Health at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University; Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director, Children's Environmental Health Network; Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology at The College of Wooster; and Linda Rudolph, Director, Center for Climate Change and Health at the Public Health Institute. The speakers highlighted the link between climate change and public health across four key areas: allergies and asthma, children’s health, mental health, and healthy community design and transportation. Participants were also introduced to additional educational resources including the original “Climate Changes Health” webinar series, available online.

This session was very well attended. Participants left armed with foundational knowledge about some of the most critical climate-related health impacts and their solutions, along with a greater awareness that becoming an advocate for climate action is a public health and health-equity imperative.

Watch a summary of our panel discussion here.

Expo Booth: #LetsTalkClimate

Throughout the conference, ecoAmerica exhibited at the Public Health Expo, where we greeted many of our public health colleagues from around the country and the globe! We also shared information about our research, resources, and objectives. In particular, we spotlighted our new report, Let’s Talk Health and Climate: Communication Guidance for Health Professionals, which proved to be enormously popular with those who stopped by our booth.

We also ran a Twitter campaign to help promote the importance of effective health and climate communication among health professionals, sharing images of attendees posing with our eye-catching photo frame and key quotes from the guide for maximum impact. (See photo collage for a sampling.) Participants also tweeted about their experiences, interests, and passions in climate change and health using the hashtag #LetsTalkClimate.

We loved learning about what everyone is doing and finding potential intersections to work together. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth--and congratulations to Ann Backus, Director of Outreach at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, for being the winner of our random prize-drawing! We’re grateful for your work and hope you enjoy the Amazon gift card.

See You Next Year!

Between all of these activities, we found some time to attend additional sessions and explore the exhibit hall. A highlight was APHA and Denver’s Environmental Health Day of Action event, which featured speakers such as Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, and Bob McDonald, Executive Director of Denver Environmental Health and ended with a one-mile “walk-shop” around Denver!

Though I had attended several prior APHA conferences, this was the first time I viewed the proceedings through the lens of climate change and health. My main takeaway from this year's meeting is the imperative to emphasize climate- change solutions across every public health discipline and topic area. Climate change is not simply an environmental health issue; cross-collaboration is essential for maximum impact.  

I and all of us with Climate for Health look forward to collaborating with colleagues we met at the conference and to continuing to work with our Learning Institute participants as we track their impact in communicating about climate change and health. Looking farther ahead, we eagerly anticipate integrating climate change into each and every sector of APHA and at next year’s event, as 2017 will be APHA’s “Year of Climate Change and Health.”  See you in Atlanta! 

Jane S. Chang is the new Program Manager, Health at ecoAmerica.







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