HHS invests in strategies to mitigate the impacts of environmental factors, including climate change, on health outcomes. HHS detects, investigates, forecasts, monitors, responds to, prevents, and aids in recovery from environmental and hazardous public health threats and their health effects. HHS promotes cross-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder coordination to improve the outcomes of climate change and environmental exposures on workers, communities, and domestic and international systems. Additionally, HHS expands awareness and increases knowledge of environmental hazards and actions that individuals and communities can take to reduce negative health outcomes.
Objectives represent the changes, outcomes and impact the HHS Strategic Plan is trying to achieve. This objective is informed by data and evidence, including the information below.
- In recent years, scientific understanding of how climate change increases risks to human health has advanced significantly. Even so, the ability to evaluate, monitor, and project health effects varies across climate impacts. (Source: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment)
- National health topics related to climate change include air pollution, allergens and pollen, diseases carried by vectors (such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, which spread pathogens that cause illness), food and waterborne diarrheal disease, food security, mental health and stress-related disorders, floods, temperature extremes and wildfires. (Source: Regional Health Effects) Each region of the United States experiences climate change and its impacts on health differently, due to the regions’ location-specific climate exposures and unique societal and demographic characteristics. (Source: Preparing for the Regional Health Impacts of Climate Change in the United States) Climate change also stresses our healthcare infrastructure and delivery systems. (Source: Climate Change and Human Health)
- The most vulnerable people—children, the elderly, the poor, and those with underlying health conditions—are at increased risk for health effects from climate change. (Source: Climate Change and Human Health)
- In 2016, the World Health Organization attributed nearly 24 percent of global deaths to modifiable environmental factors. Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to climate-related health threats as a result of specific physical, environmental, and sociodemographic factors (e.g., people earning lower incomes, indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, outdoor workers, people with disabilities). (Source: Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks) Forty-two million American homes suffer from energy poverty, making them vulnerable to intense heat and cold. More than 2,000,000 Americans live without basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Nearly 12 million Americans, disproportionately people of color, are exposed to unhealthy air pollution levels. (Source: The Intersection of Environmental Justice and Human Services)
- Climate change threatens Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and economies, including agriculture, hunting and gathering, fishing, forestry, energy, recreation, and tourism enterprises. Indigenous peoples’ economies rely on, but face institutional barriers to, their self-determined management of water, land, other natural resources, and infrastructure that will be impacted increasingly by changes in climate. (Source: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 15: Tribes and Indigenous People)
- Environmental factors such as poor air quality, disproportionate exposure to hazards in the workplace, unhealthy housing conditions (e.g., mold, dampness and pest infestation), and the lack of safe areas for physical activity have been linked to chronic conditions such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease and obesity; psychological distress; and developmental disabilities. (Source: 2012 Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan)
- Racial and ethnic minorities may encounter more environmental hazards than non-minorities do. A national study of 215 U.S. Census tracts found that Hispanic individuals and non-Hispanic Black individuals were more exposed than non-Hispanic White individuals to airborne particulate matter, such as chlorine, aluminum, and elemental carbon. This exposure is associated with adverse health outcomes. (Source: Healthy People 2030: Environmental Conditions)
Contributing OpDivs and StaffDivs
ASPR, ATSDR, CDC, CMS, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH, OASH, OCR, and OGA work to achieve this objective.
HHS OpDivs and StaffDivs engage and work with a broad range of partners and stakeholders to implement the strategies and achieve this Objective. They include: the Food Waste Reduction, President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, U.S. Global Change Research Program, and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council.
Expand ability to predict, monitor, prevent, respond to, and recover from health impacts of environmental changes and threats, including utilizing a One Health approach
- Develop, use, and evaluate analytical, prevention and control tools and models to accurately forecast, prepare for, mitigate, and adapt to environmental and occupational hazards or climate change impacts, including those related to the agricultural ecosystem that have public health implications, including the effects of wind, rainfall, drought, and fire and the impacts on animal populations, the microbial make-up of soil and water, and land use.
- Expand disease surveillance systems, environmental health data collection, and predictive modeling capabilities, and integrate such environmental health data with data from other scientific disciplines (e.g., geoscience, agricultural, land use, animal sciences, and behavioral and social science) to detect changes in risk, incidence, and distribution over time, including environmental impacts on workers and industries, and underserved communities.
- Conduct and support research on the impacts of current and emerging environmental exposures, risk factors, environmental and hazardous public health threats, and climate change to increase understanding of health outcomes on individuals and communities at the national and international level.
- Translate research findings into the adoption of health policies and evidence-based strategies to prevent environmental and climate change exposures, address health inequities, prepare for and adapt to health risks, and improve health outcomes.
- Enhance collaborations with federal partners and international agriculture, environmental and other sector entities to better address recurring and anticipated issues associated with food production, safety, and availability, food-related disease and mortality, including under-nutrition, infectious and non-communicable diseases, and diarrheal- and vector borne diseases and maternal and child health.
Promote coordination among sectors and levels of government and multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches to protect people from health threats arising from climate change and environmental and occupational exposures
- Facilitate research, collaboration, and implementation efforts between public and private healthcare system stakeholders to make healthcare delivery more environmentally sustainable and more resilient to the threats of natural disasters, including extreme weather events, thereby reducing costs and risks from disruption of healthcare operations.
- Support multidisciplinary teams, prioritizing engagement of community stakeholders in affected communities at all stages of environmental and climate change health research and program implementation, to develop intervention strategies and gain understanding of the factors that make those strategies successful and replicable.
- Establish partnerships with federal agencies, state, local, territorial health departments, tribal nations, academic institutions, and community- and faith-based organizations, leveraging environmental health expertise and local capabilities, to conduct environmental, occupational, and climate change health research, build the capacity of impacted communities, and implement programming to reduce the health risks of environmental hazards.
Expand awareness and knowledge of environmental and occupational hazards to inform actions individuals and communities can take to reduce negative health outcomes
- Build networks and develop tools to educate health providers, employers, workers, and communities about the environmental hazards, including climate change, that impact their local health outcomes and actions to mitigate and manage those impacts.
- Develop and sustain formal and informal collaborations within and across HHS Divisions, other federal agencies, global health entities, and a wide range of partners to address environmental threats and climate change.
The HHS Annual Performance Plan provides information on the Department’s measures of progress towards achieving the goals and objectives described in the HHS Strategic Plan for FY 2022–2026. Below are the related performance measures for this Objective.
- Number of public health actions undertaken (using Environmental Health Tracking data) that prevent or control potential adverse health effects from environmental exposures
- Increase training and resources to address the access and functional needs of electricity and healthcare service-dependent at-risk individuals who live independently and are impacted by incidents, emergencies, and disasters
- By FY 2026, OCR will conduct a Title VI Environmental Justice/Public Health compliance review and undertake any needed steps for resolution
Learn More About HHS Work in this Objective
- Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) Framework: The Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework is a five-step process that allows health officials to develop strategies and programs to help communities prepare for the health effects of climate change. Part of this effort involves incorporating complex atmospheric data and both short and long range climate projections into public health planning and response activities. Combining atmospheric data and projections with epidemiologic analysis allows health officials to more effectively anticipate, prepare for, and respond to a range of climate sensitive health impacts.
- Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal: The Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal provides free, public access to a curated, searchable database of global, peer-reviewed research and literature on the science of climate change impacts on human health.
- HHS 2021 Climate Action Plan: This plan represents a concerted effort to enhance resilience and adaptation to climate change throughout the activities of HHS. Building on and expanding previous agency climate action plans, this document presents initial steps in working across the different divisions and individual regions of HHS to identify and implement critical actions to protect the health of all Americans from climate change-related threats.
- NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) 2018–2023 Strategic Plan, Advancing Environmental Health Sciences Improving Health: An effort to empower transdisciplinary solutions to reduce climate health threats across the lifespan and build health resilience in individuals, communities, and nations around the world, especially among those at highest risk.
- President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children: HHS co-chairs the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children whose Subcommittee on Climate, Emergencies and Disasters works to address gaps in health protection, promotion, and research related to climate change, public health emergencies and disasters by convening and coordinating relevant activities of federal agencies and stakeholders.
- White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council: The council shall develop a strategy to address current and historic environmental injustice by consulting with the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and with local environmental justice leaders. The Interagency Council shall also develop clear performance metrics to ensure accountability and publish an annual public performance scorecard on its implementation.
- The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment: This assessment strengthens and expands our understanding of climate-related health impacts by providing a more definitive description of climate-related health burdens in the United States. It builds on the 2014 National Climate Assessment and reviews and synthesizes key contributions to the published literature. Acknowledging the rising demand for data that can be used to characterize how climate change affects health, this report assesses recent analyses that quantify observed and projected health impacts.