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New book by Geof Rayner and Prof Tim Lang on Ecological Public Health

25 April 2012

The latest book from the Centre for Food Policy is by Geof Rayner and Tim Lang. This argues for an overhaul in public health thinking, and a return to - and modernisation around - what they call Ecological Public Health. This is one of five major models of health over the last 250 years. Often, the outsider, this is now the model for the 21st century, they argue.

Published by Routledge/Earthscan at the end of April, Ecological Public Health: Reshaping the Conditions for Good Health, tackles one of the big ideas this Centre has tussled over since its creation in 1994: what is a good society for both human health and the environment?

For many people, public health is an environmental and sanitation issue of drains, water, food and housing, requiring engineering and expert management. To others, it is all about human health, and involves the State using medicine or health education, and tackling unhealthy lifestyles.

However the world in the 21st century is undergoing a number of transitions that mean these two-track definitions are inadequate, according to Rayner and Lang. Their book outlines nine Transitions shaping what health means today. Some are old and well understood, some only just been grappled with. These Transitions are: demographic, epidemiological, urban, energy, economic, nutrition, biological, cultural, and democracy itself.

The authors argue that 21st century health will be about the interactions between human health and ecosystems health. The task is always a mix of tackling what they describe as four dimensions of health: the material, bio-physiological, societal and cultural.

This is an optimistic book. To Rayner and Lang, public health is 'the task of transforming the relationship between people, their circumstances and the biological world of nature and bodies'. They call for 'stronger and more daring combinations of interdisciplinary work, movements and professions locally, nationally and globally' to face the enormous challenges ahead.

More details on the book can be found at

Geof Rayner and Tim Lang have also written an open access paper outlining how this understanding challenges nutrition science in the journal World Nutrition.