Sustaining planetary health through systems thinking: Public health's critical role

Hari S. Iyer, Nicole V. DeVille, Olivia Stoddard, Jennifer Cole, Samuel S. Myers, Huichi Li, Elise G. Elliot, Marcia P. Jiminez, Peter James, Christopher D. Golden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding and responding to adverse human health impacts of global environmental change will be a major priority of 21st century public health professionals. The emerging field of planetary health aims to face this challenge by studying and promoting policies that protect the health of humans and of the Earth’s natural systems that support them. Public health, drawing on its experience of guiding policies to improve population health, has contributed to planetary health’s development. Yet, few public health practitioners are familiar with planetary health’s systems-oriented approaches for understanding relationships between economic development, environmental degradation, and human health. In this narrative review, we present key planetary health concepts and show how systems thinking has guided its development. We discuss historical approaches to studying impacts of economic development on human health and the environment. We then review novel conceptual frameworks adopted by planetary health scientists to study and forecast impacts of policies that influence human health and Earth’s natural systems at varying spatiotemporal scales. We conclude by presenting examples of how applying the “Doughnut” model (an economic framework where the needs of people are met without over-shooting the world’s ecological limits) could guide policies for promoting health co-benefits to humans and natural systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100844
Number of pages15
JournalSSM - Population Health
Early online date11 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • systems thinking
  • Planetary health
  • public health campaign

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