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Directed Reading: Planetary Health

Course Number
7000 (Reading Courses & Research Projects)
Course Instructor(s)
Paula K.A. Braitstein

Course Description

This 12-week, half-credit course will provide students with a big picture perspective of planetary health, research, policy and practice issues related to it, and the implications and opportunities related to planetary health for public and population health globally. A key theme throughout will be consideration of health and social equity issues and the differential impacts of climate and other environmental changes on populations in light of these issues.

As the course aims to advance competencies in the field of epidemiology, population and public health, it will be of interest to:

  • Masters and PhD students in the Public Health Sciences or IHPME;
  • MSc and PhD students affiliated with the School of the Environment, the Institute of Medical Sciences, or with backgrounds in environmental sciences and health, or toxicology;
  • Masters and PhD students in related areas, fields or disciplines such as geography and planning, engineering, or policy studies with sufficient background to contribute to and benefit from the course.

If in doubt, please check with the lead instructor. Proposed student complement is 10-20 students.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Broadly understand the concept of planetary health, its distinguishing characteristics relative to eco-health, the ecological determinants of health, and OneHealth;
  • Articulate the nature of the Anthropocene and discuss current trends in knowledge and thinking about the impacts on human societies;
  • Identify key human health effects and indicators across the lifespan related to planetary health and climate change;
  • Identify key sources of data on climate change, desertification, human health and development, nationally and globally;
  • Identify key sources of data on planetary surveillance systems;
  • Understand key methodological challenges and limitations in studying planetary health;
  • Start framing research ideas in this field;
  • Expand thinking about implications for public health policy and practice in this field; and
  • Formulate advocacy perspectives from research evidence.

Methods of Assessment

  1. Participation in course sessions, as graded by the instructor based on student preparation (news & events, readings), engagement in discussions, and contribution to the learning of all group members – 20% (holistic assessment);
  2. 1-page reflection and summary for class blog from Week 1 – 10% (holistic assessment);
  3. Class project of drivers of climate and environmental change in North America and East Africa, respectively – 10% (analytic assessment: 5% for relevance, 5% for equity considerations);
  4. Class project of population health impacts of climate and environmental change in North America and East Africa, respectively – 10% (analytic assessment: 5% for relevance, 5% for equity considerations);
  5. One in-class presentation on the last day of students’ research ideas and proposed methods for final write-up – 15% (analytic assessment: 5% quality of presentation, 10% for completeness, feasibility, approach);
  6. Students will prepare a research proposal, public health advocacy framework, intersectoral program or policy proposal on a related topic –  35% (analytic assessment: 15% for completeness and relevance to course, and 20% for rationale, broad aim, hypothesis, sources of data, primary exposures, primary outcomes, methods, and potential limitations; program or policy proposal to include: problem statement, program or policy proposed, target population, intended impact, limitations, monitoring and evaluation framework). 

General Requirements

It is highly recommended that students have at least one epidemiology course covering the building blocks of an epidemiological study i.e. population, exposure, outcome, covariates +/-intervention, analysis, and different epidemiological designs e.g. cross-sectional survey, cohort study.