Kansas is the latest state to receive funding from the CDC to simultaneously track health problems and environmental hazards. Photo by Tim Samoff via Flickr.
While many scientists suspect or believe environment plays a key role in chronic health issues, there is little comprehensive data from the general public to draw accurate correlations. But that is changing thanks to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program that has just added another state--Kansas--to its list of states that are tracking both environmental hazards and health problems. Kansas has the unique opportunity to examine the relationship between illness and environment in a green community--Greensburg, Kansas. The number of states involved in the CDC program is now 17, and New York City is the sole local health department that receives funding.The CDC's National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network provides grants to fund tracking programs to bring together health data, environmental hazard data, exposure data, and personal data such as age, sex, lifestyle, etc. in order to explore correlations between environment and health.
The data will be used to determine the severity of public health problems, detect abnormalities in health and hazards, identify at-risk populations. They also want to use the data to develop hypotheses about the relationship between health and the environment, and to facilitate policy.
Data Will Help Track Trends, Reduce Disease
What all the jargon boils down to is the data will provide officials with information that can help Kansas (and the other participating states) reduce rates of asthma, cancer, birth defects, Alzheimer's, and other chronic illnesses.
The data from Greensburg, Kansas could be compared to that of a typical community with similar demographics to see if there are any differences in illnesses. Will there be lower rates of cancer and chronic illnesses in this town? Unfortunately, it may take a generation to find out.
Ultimately, the program will help citizens, says Kansas's State Health Officer, Dr. Eberhart-Phillips:
Developing a tracking network in Kansas will be a major step forward. It will help us identify threats to our state's health posed by the environment and improve how we deal with those threats. When completed Kansans will be able to access critical environmental health information that will help them make informed decisions and take action to protect themselves and their families.
The benefit to Kansas (and the other states involved in the CDC program) is the Kansas Department of Health & Environment will be able to see trends within their own state and in relation to other states. If Kansas somehow pulled together the resources to create a similar program on its own, it would be very difficult to draw comparisons to data from other states because each state may look at different variables. The strength of the CDC program is in its consistency.
The CDC's tracking program is a fantastic step forward, but it's a shame there isn't the funding to bring this program to all states, since there are unique environmental factors in each state. But every great program has to start somewhere, right?
States involved in the CDC's tracking program include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.