UCSF Sustainability Stories


Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, March 2015


The Story of Health:  UCSF Uses the Power of Storytelling to Promote Pediatric Environmental Health

FamilyThe Story of Health, a new project from UCSF’s Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), is using the power of storytelling to promote pediatric environmental health.  By translating complex science and research, the goal is to promote health and disease prevention and improve the health of individuals, families, communities, and patients.

Dr. Mark Miller, MD, MPH, an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine (Division of Occupational and Environmental Health) and Director of PEHSU is passionate about the link between environmental health and pediatric care.  “The Story of Health represents a true, holistic medical approach that educates clinical practioners on the interconnection between the multiple influences of health.  It is an introduction to pediatric environmental health concepts targeted to clinicians, clinicians in training, physicians, health educators, and policy makers who work in children’s environmental health,” explained Dr. Miller.

CoverWhile the Story of Health is focused on the health of children, Dr. Miller believes his work is also linked to the health of the planet.  “We are all part of the ecosystem.  Everything is connected,” stressed Dr. Miller.  Toxins in the air and in the products in our homes, for example, are directly linked to our health and the health of our communities.  While environmental health is offered as an elective at the UCSF Medical School, A Story of Health makes the information readily available for free, both the UCSF community and the broader community interested in children’s environmental health. A Story of Health examines how a wide range of factors have an impact on our health every day, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and our social and economic circumstances. The stories highlight the many ways our health is affected by the environments where we live, eat, work, play, pray, volunteer, gather, and socialize.  For example:

  • Discover how early life stress can magnify the effects of exposure to air pollution and make asthma worse.
  • See how some genes can make children more susceptible to toxic substances like pesticides, which may contribute to the onset of development disabilities.
  • Learn how a common nutritional supplement during early gestation may reduce the risk of childhood leukemia and other disorders.

The stories are told through the lives of fictional characters and their families - Brett, a young boy with asthma; Amelia, a teenager with developmental disabilities; and toddler Stephen, recently diagnosed with leukemia. Each fictional story incorporates the latest scientific research about disease origin and includes helpful facts about disease prevention. Complex information and science is brought to life with colorful illustrations, graphics and videos. The stories are written for an educated lay audience, with more technical sections written for scientists and medical professionals.  The Website includes links to a wide range of additional resources and hundreds of scientific papers.  All with the goal to promote health and prevent disease.

A Story of Health was developed by the UCSF PEHSU along with partners: ATSDR, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California EPA (OEHHA), and the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN). The eBook offers over five hours of FREE continuing education credits offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In February 2016, the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) presented the “A Story of Health” team with an Excellence in Communications Award at the annual NCEH/ATSDR Honor Awards. The award pays tribute to the development of a medical education product that highlights the importance of environmental health.