Environmental Health

Building and sustaining healthy environments is one of government’s core responsibilities to its citizens. In the U.S., there is an extensive and multidisciplinary network of professionals who work to promote public health and protect citizens from environmental hazards like air and water pollution, extreme weather and climate change, threats to food safety, and poor quality housing. Despite its importance, however, this work often flies under the radar of public awareness and is largely taken for granted or misunderstood by the public.

Recognizing this challenge, in 2009 three leading, national nonprofit professional organizations engaged in environmental health work, the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), through funding from the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), partnered with the FrameWorks Institute on a research project to develop and direct the field’s communications capacities. This research was grounded in the realization that, in order to promote public health and protect communities, the field of environmental health needs to be able to sustain a robust conversation with the public it serves.

To this end, the research project translates and helps frame the core tenets of the science of environmental health for the American public – defining what it comprises, what it can accomplish, and why this work is a public responsibility. In so doing, the project aims to help those who work in the field of environmental health to speak with a more consistent and strategic voice about their field and its work. The ultimate goal of the communications project is to provide a strategy and tools that can be used to build support for efforts to promote healthy environments and reduce harm associated with environmental hazards.

Research & Recommendations

**New**Building Understanding of Environmental Health: A Communications Toolkit

**New** We Need a Ground Crew for Environmental Health Working Upstream: Using Explanatory Metaphors to Improve Public Understanding of Environmental Health and its Workforce (2014). This report presents the results of qualitative and quantitative research designed to develop two Explanatory Metaphors — Upstream Environments, Downstream Health and Ground Crew for Environmental Health — that help shift public thinking towards more productive ways of thinking about the scope and importance of environmental health work.

Using Values to Build Public Understanding and Support for Environmental Health Work (2013). This report details the findings from an experimental survey of 2,600 registered voters designed to identify values that elevate public support for the environmental health field and its work. The experiment finds that, of five values tested, Fairness Between Places proved highly effective in bridging gaps between expert and public understandings about environmental health.

The Media Narrative of Environmental Health (2012). This report analyzes media coverage of the field of environmental health. In the first part of this report, dominant media frames narratives related to environmental issues were identified and analyzed. Second, these narratives were compared to expert narratives and public thinking on environmental health. Relevant stories from newspapers across the country, television broadcasts and news-oriented blogs between January 1, 2010 through January 1, 2012 were examined.

People, Polar Bears, and the Potato Salad: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Environmental Health (2011). This report lays the groundwork for the larger reframing project by comparing expert perspectives on environmental health with those of average Americans. Data from interviews with both expert and lay informants are compared to examine gaps in understanding that can ultimately be addressed through strategic communication strategies.

**New** Talking Environmental Health: A FrameWorks MessageMemo (2014) (pdf) This Multimedia MessageMemo summarizes the findings from a comprehensive multi-method investigation of how Americans view environmental heath. It recommends empirically-tested reframing tools that elevate public understanding of the scope and importance of environmental health work. The MessageMemo includes videos and infographics to help advocates visualize the research findings and appreciate the impact of the reframing tools.


Pictures in Their Heads. Based on Cultural Models interviews conducted by FrameWorks, this video explores how everyday Americans think and talk about environmental health and considers the communication and conceptual challenges that future research must address.

On the Street Interviews: Using Explanatory Metaphors. Creating new ways for Americans to think about environmental health with explanatory metaphors.

FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 06/24/16